Jaclyn Sweeney, the top player on the 2013 Symetra Tour money list in this week's field, withstood the pressure of being tabbed as someone capable of mastering the tricky Sara Bay Country Club with local knowledge by posting a 1-under-par 71.
Other players with Manatee County ties didn't fair quite as well as Sweeney.
Natalie Sheary (73), Victoria Tanco (75), Ginger Howard (75), Rachel Connor (82) and Seema Sadekar (76) round out the professionals that either spent time at IMG Academy training to play golf or call Bradenton home.
Connor posted on Facebook that she's withdrawing from the tournament due to a back injury for the first time in her career. "I have been referred to a back specialist to see where to go from here," Connor wrote on her fan page.
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Slow play costs Sweeney
Friday's round produced a slow-play penalty, which seems to be a growing trend in professional golf. At this year's Masters, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was assessed a similar penalty that nearly cost him a chance at making the cut. This week's Guardian Retirement Championship gave fans another pace of play ruling as Sweeney was issued a one-stroke penalty for slow play after completing the par-3 fourth hole.
Stats never lie
Sara Bay proved difficult in the inaugural event last year, but played easier with Christine Song and Isabelle Boineau logging 68s for the lowest scores in four competitive rounds at the Manatee County course. In fact, the course yielded four eagles in Friday's first round.
However, Sara Bay's tricky greens also caused a high scoring average on the first day for the 143-player field. Players averaged 76.50 strokes per round, a margin of 4-over par. The front nine played more than ½ a shot harder as the easiest hole (No. 18) was on the back nine. That side also featured the most difficult hole, the 400-yard par-4 10th, which played 0.58 shots over par for the field.
There are two amateurs in the field this week that have connections to the area: Yvonne Zheng and Hally Leadbetter.
Both found the first round tough sledding with Zheng, a Saint Stephen's senior headed to UCLA, recording only two birdies during a round of 81. Leadbetter, the daughter of famed golf instructor David Leadbetter, didn't have any birdies en route to a 79.
Zheng grabbed a spot in the field based on her performance on the IMG Junior Golf Tour, which handed out an exemption.
Leadbetter, who plays collegiately at the University of Arkansas, received a sponsor's exemption. Both players need better results Saturday to make the 36-hole cut, which includes the top 70 scores and ties.