Hjorth blazes clear in Ireland

Maria Hjorth has blasted her way to a 5-under 67 that’s put her on top of the leaderboard at the AIB Ladies Irish Open.

Big-hitting Swede Maria Hjorth has blasted her way to a 5-under par 67 that has put her on top of the leaderboard after the first round of the LET’s AIB Ladies Irish Open.

On day of changeable weather at Killeen Castle in Dunsany, County Meath, Hjorth used her prodigious distance off the tee to engineer a flying start with an eagle on her second hole, the par-five 12th, the signature hole at Killeen.

She reduced the 454-yard hole to a driver and rescue 4, which she hit over the water to 25 feet from the pin and then coolly rolled in the eagle putt.

The 36-year-old four-time Solheim Cup player birdied the 13th, bogeyed the 14th and birdied holes 17 and 18 for a back nine, four-under 32.

At the 17th, she hit a 290-yard drive and a lob wedge to 25 feet. At the par-four 18th, which is played uphill, she hit another huge drive and then used a 56 degree wedge from 106 yards out put her ball just eight feet from the pin.

She recorded her fourth birdie of the day at the third, hitting a lob wedge in to within a foot of the pin from 75 yards, then bogeyed the par-three 6th.

She finished in style with a birdie on the par-four ninth, using a driver and seven-iron to eight feet.

Hjorth said that being a longer hitter helped, as she can reach three of the par fives in two shots.

“You can have a lot of birdie chances and you can take advantage of being a longer hitter,” she said.

“There were a couple of par-fives here where I can reach the green in two but I got in the greenside bunker and didn’t get up and down. There were also a couple of par-threes where I made bogeys but overall I’m very happy with today.”

Hjorth is in Ireland with her 18 month old daughter, Emily, while her husband Shaun McBride caddies for Bryce Molder on the PGA Tour.

The five-time tournament champion said that she was enjoying being back in Ireland, having tied for 26th at the 2009 event at Portmarnock Links and tied for seventh in 2008.

“I really enjoy coming here and it’s great to be here at Killeen Castle as well and try out the course for Solheim which I’ll hopefully be back for next year,” she said.

Another player with Solheim Cup aspirations is England’s Melissa Reid, who was a stroke back in sole second place on 68.

Reid, the Turkish Airlines Ladies Open champion said: “I felt I putted really well. On the front nine. I didn’t feel I could have done any better than four under.

“The back nine? I just short sided myself once, made double and then just a three-putt for a bogey. All in all, a pretty good day and I’d probably have taken 68 if you’d have given me that on the first tee.”

Scotland’s Carly Booth, 18, who is playing in her rookie season on the Ladies European Tour, had a career best round of 69 and at three under was just two shots off the pace alongside the World No.10 In Kyung Kim of South Korea, Denmark’s Iben Tinning and Kristy McPherson of the United States.

England’s Georgina Simpson was the best of the players competing in the afternoon. She finished her day just three shots off the pace
World No.9 Anna Ordains is also playing in the afternoon and was five under par after seven holes but dropped three shots over the next two. She also bogeyed the 13th and is at two under along with three-time Irish Open champion Sophie Gustafson.