The first round of the Tuscaloosa Toyota Classic has come to a close with a group of four players leading the field at 5-under. There was a lot of red on numbers at Ol’ Colony Golf Course in round one, after 45 players finished under par after the first 18 holes of play. As we head into the weekend, a few players at the top will be fighting for their LPGA Tour cards over the next 36 holes.
Alena Sharp is one of the players tied at the top that can all but lock up her LPGA Tour card for the 2024 season with a win. Sharp is trying to return to the tour where she has spent most of her career and got off to a great start in Tuscaloosa with a bogey-free 5-under 67. The 42-year-old has played in 12 events on the Epson Tour on 2023, not missing a single cut along the way. Now, she is on her way to a 13th straight cut and is relying on her experience heading into the weekend and the rest of the season.
"I really like how this course looks and I hit the ball really well today on top of that," said Sharp. "Things were good today but I have just been putting too much pressure on myself recently, so I had a little bit of an attitude adjustment heading into this week and I feel a lot lighter, and it showed in my play today. I have been in this position so many times before, so I have to use my experience because the other times I have been in situations like this, I didn’t handle it well. You just have to learn from it each time and it just comes down to believing in yourself and your game.”
Auston Kim is the second player tied for the lead that can move securely into the top 10 with a win this week at the Tuscaloosa Toyota Classic. Kim also went bogey-free in her first round to join Sharp at 5-under for the tournament. The 23-year-old is in her second year on the Epson Tour and is currently No. 13 in the Race for the Card. Kim leads the Epson Tour in top-10 finishes this season, racking up 9 top-10 finishes in 19 events. Two out of her last three events have resulted in a top-10 finish and kept her within striking distance of her LPGA Tour card. Kim is looking to take the last big hurdle this season and walk out of Tuscaloosa with some hardware.
"This course is pretty wide, thankfully," said Kim. "Tee to green there are a lot of holes if you miss it a little bit, you’ll be okay, and you will have a look. Today was for sure a confidence boost, it feels good to put up a really solid round of golf, especially this late in the season. I am working on little things that just seem to be adding up at the right time.”
Maddie McCrary had a rollercoaster of a day to join the group atop the leaderboard. McCrary’s round was highlighted by a hole-out eagle on No. 16, her seventh hole of the day. McCrary would then turn with a 5-under 31. She made her first and only mistake on her second hole of her back nine, with a double-bogey 6. A bounce back on No. 3* moved the Texas native back to 4-under on the day and a birdie on her last hole closed out her 18 holes at 5-under. The 27-year-old is playing to get into the top 35 and play her way into Q-Series. McCrary currently is No. 37 and just $2,000 shy of the top 35. There is a lot to play for in the next 36 holes for McCrary, but she is just trying to stay in the moment the best she can.
"I talked with my sports phycologist yesterday and I just came into this week with a new confidence," said McCrary. "It was all about just trying to stay in the present and that is what I did today, and it really helped. Every time I missed a putt or hit a bad shot today, I just kept telling myself to stay confident and it worked out pretty well. It was a little bit up and down, but overall it was a good day.
Rounding out the group of four at the top is New Zealand native Amelia Garvey. Garvey is the only player tied for the lead that came from the morning wave in round one. It was a colorful scorecard for Garvey in the first round, only 7 pars made it on the card, along with 8 birdies, and three bogeys. The first thing on Garvey’s mind every time she tees it up is winning, but right now, finishing the season inside the top 35 is the main goal with just two tournaments to play.
“This course allows me to hit driver a lot and be quite aggressive,” explained Garvey. “You enter every tournament wanting to win it, so nothing changes in the mindset at the end of the day. I am just trying to play solid golf right now, if I get a win, I might sneak my way into the top 10 but goal is just to be inside that top 35 and at Q-Series at the end of the year.”
A group of three players are in a tie for ffith at 4-under round out the top of the leaderboard at the Tuscaloosa Toyota Classic. Round 2 will start at 7:30 a.m. CT off holes 1 and 10.
Clariss Guce (-4, T5) on trying to keep everything together during a long stretch of tournaments:
“Last week was a rough one for me, so I just kind of came into this week with no expectations. It is our fourth week in a row out here, so you are just trying to keep your body together and going back to basics. You feel a lot different in week four and five than you do in week one and two, so you just want to take care of yourself a little more and make sure you are doing everything you need to do.”
Ssu-Chia Cheng (-4, T5) on her mindset heading into Round One at the Tuscaloosa Toyota Classic:
“It was a pretty good round today, but I was really just focused on going out there and trying to have fun. I just tried to do my own thing, focus on my process, and I had a fun group on top of it. I played her last year as well and there are some challenging holes out there, so you have to be careful but overall, I played well and had a good day.”
Karen Chung (-3, T8) on bouncing back after a difficult final round last week:
“It was pretty steady going for most of my round today until I got to the last hole here. I decided to three putt it, but it is what it is, it was a good overall round. This course is pretty tough, you just have to keep yourself in it as much as you can and play smart. After last week I am trying not to pay attention to where I am because I had a complete meltdown, but my name is up near the top right now and I am super happy about it.”