The first day of play at the Guardian Championship ended after a delay due to weather in the area cutting the first round short. The stoppage of play started at 2:55 p.m. and lasted two hours and five minutes before play was finally resumed at 5:00 p.m. Previous to the delay, the morning wave took advantage of the calmer conditions, with four players posting rounds of 66 or better. Once play was able to resume, the conditions calmed down again, and the field was able to start rolling birdies before play was suspended for the day at 6:30 p.m. due to darkness.
Cydney Clanton led the way in the first round, turning in a card with nine birdies and no bogeys for a 9-under 63. Clanton is coming off a top-15 finish at the LPGA Tour’s Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G, where she posted four straight under-par rounds. In her last two rounds on the Epson Tour, Clanton is 16-under and has recorded zero bogeys. The game is trending in the right direction at the right time for the 34-year-old, who will try and take home her third Epson Tour victory of her career this week.
“Being able to execute last week was huge,” said Clanton. “To have the opportunity to place in the top 10, even be in contention. I played really well last week and felt like if I was able to capitalize a little bit more on some short-game stuff; it could have been really good. Then it was nice to see it filter on over to this week.”
Clanton picked up her first Epson Tour victory at the 2013 Four Winds Invitational and then won twice in 2019, once on the Epson Tour at the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout and once on the LPGA Tour at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. The Auburn University alumna feels right at home in Alabama and is loving the feeling of being in the mix come the weekend again.
“There is all kinds of energy running through you when you’re playing well and in contention,” explained Clanton. “You have to manage the energy, but that’s what you want to have to do; you want to manage the energy that’s within you. To kind of get the taste of that, I have read articles of people saying they have dry mouth coming down the stretch and that’s exactly what it was.”
Yiyi Liu held the clubhouse lead for about 30 minutes before Clanton finished a few groups behind her. Liu also signed for a bogey-free round, but in Liu’s case, it was a 7-under 65, two-shot behind the lead. The round saw its first birdie on hole 3, but the day was highlighted by five birdies in a row from holes 6 through 10, with her last birdie of the day coming on hole 15. The 22-year-old started off last week quickly as well, posting a 6-under 66 in her first round at the Black Desert Resort Classic. Liu missed four straight cuts before making it to the final day in Utah but seems to be finding the form that got her two top-10 finishes earlier this season.
“My game feels really good, I had a lot of birdie chances that were only one or two yards away,” said Liu. “I have a lot of confidence after how I played last week, I feel like I can play better than I did a week ago, too. Before last week I didn’t make a cut for a month and that hurt, but I got some experience from that.”
Ssu-Chia Cheng joined Liu with a 7-under 65, which was also bogey-free. Cheng did not have a run of birdies like Liu but instead scattered her birdies throughout the round, with four birdies coming on the front and three on the back. Cheng has had a steady season in 2023, with four top-10 finishes, one being a runner-up finish at the Hartford HealthCare Women’s Championship. The two-time Epson Tour champion sits at No. 23 in the Race for the Card, and a third career win would put her right into contention for the top 10 with three tournaments to play.
“I have played here a few times, but we haven’t played on the Bermuda grass in a while, so it is something you have to get used to,” said Cheng. “I definitely had a pretty good day today, but I am just trying to stay focused and stay present. I have been working on my putting as well with my coach and it seemed to work today so I am happy with that as well.”
Carley Cox sits in solo fourth at 6-under with a group of seven players at 5-under in a tie for fifth to round out the top of the leaderboard. Round 1 will resume play at 7:30 a.m. CT, with Round 2 beginning at 8:30 a.m. CT.
Carley Cox (-6, 4th) on her bogey-free 6-under opening round:
“Well, we’re back down south and with me being from North Carolina, we’re used to Bermuda grass which we’re playing on this week. It feels like home in a sense. It is starting to feel like my hard work is paying off, this game isn’t always linear in the sense that you’re making improvements, but it doesn’t always show up right away. After an up and down year, it is nice to put a round like that together, it just gives you confidence that you are working on the right things.”
Nataliya Guseva (-5, T5) on strong first round after her win last week:
“I really tried to forget about the win and everything that happened last week and treat this just as a brand-new week and event. I just tried to stay in the moment as much as possible today just keep my momentum going. I really focused on just keeping the same tempo, made sure not to rush, and just stay within the moment.”
Erica Shepherd (-3, T19) on her first Epson Tour since making it to Stage II:
“This summer was crucial for me as I prepared to go to Stage I. I knew I wanted to turn professional, and I was able to get into some Epson events, which were super helpful and almost made Stage I feel easy. I had three starts before Stage I and now this start between Stage I and II, it is just really good preparation. The course today is playing tough and long, so the scores today are really impressive.”