Wind-blown Papago proves to be a handful

       On a day when most of the 144-player field was literally gone with the wind, two former U.S. Women’s Open champions put their tenacity on display at the J Golf Phoenix LPGA International.
       Inbee Park, the reigning Open champ, and Scottsdale’s Cristie Kerr, who captured the Open title in 2007, both carded 3-under-par 69s at the newly revamped Papago Golf Course. That moved them one shot behind Thursday’s first-round leader, Korea’s In-Kyung Kim.
     But Park, a Korean who lives in Las Vegas, and Kerr played in the afternoon, when winds gusted up to 39 mph, while Kim got lucky with a morning draw that proved much more docile.
      “I played a phenomenal round today,’’ said Kerr, who wasn’t boasting about her colorful scorecard that included two eagles, three birdies and four bogeys. The eagles were set up by a 3-wood from 240 yards to 25 feet at No. 10, and a brilliant 4-iron at No. 18 from 195 yards that settled five feet from the cup.
     “We kept getting blown around, losing our balance . . . but it went well,”  added Kerr, comparing the blustery day to a British Open. "My caddie and I thought very well in that wind.’’
      Park said the wind varied from a maximum of three clubs down to one and a half clubs, as it was “tough to get the distance right.’’
     “It was a dusty wind blowing in from the desert. An incredible wind,’’ said the 20-year-old, who hung in there with five birdies against a pair of bogeys.
     “If everybody played in the afternoon, I’d probably be (leading).’’
     Well, not quite, although she’s close along with another couple of Koreans, Jiyai Shin and Eun-Hee Ji, and Sweden’s Suzann Pettersen, who also shot 69s.
     Two-time defending champ Lorena Ochoa also got blown around plenty in the afternoon dust and haze, as did rookie sensation Michelle Wie. But both managed to hold it together, as Ochoa birdied the last hole for a 72, while Wie went 14 holes in the red before bogeys at the 15th and 16th dropped her back to 73.
    Not as fortunate was Paula Creamer, as the "Pink Panther” was forced to withdraw with an illness just prior to her tee time. Also MIA was Scottsdale’s Grace Park, who holed a bunker shot at her ninth hole then walked off the course presumably with an ailment, although LPGA policy won’t confirm such injuries.
    For an opening day at a brand-new venue, the crowds turned out about 10,000 to 15,000 strong. And despite the powerful winds that kept volunteers from being standard bearers – and a few hats being blown away for good! — the fans stuck it out.
    Not many knew who Kim was or is, but for the record the 20-year-old is one of 37 Koreans playing this week at Papago. Last year she recorded her first win at the Long’s Drug Challenge and also had a third-place finish in the Open.
   Kim ended up with an eagle, five birdies and three bogeys to get to 68, which technically was a new course record for 18 holes at the all-new Papago. But her biggest break came when she drew an 8:07 a.m. tee time, which meant she only played about nine holes in the wind  — the “easy wind.”
    The other player to keep an eye on from that initial morning wave is Shin, yet another 20-year-old Korean with plenty of game. Shin posted three wins on the LPGA last year as a non-member, including the Women’s British Open, and already has won this year in Singapore. A budding superstar, Shin has won 27 times in the last three years world-wide.
    But Kim, Kerr, Park and Shin were the exceptions to the rule. Overall, the numbers from Round One were sky-high, with only 20 players breaking par. On the flip side, 10 players failed to break 80 as the average score soared to 75.024.
    The poster girl for how bad it got was veteran Michelle McGann, who opened eagle-birdie to get to 3-under after two holes in the afternoon only to end up with an 80. The wind also made for slow play, as 10 players were still on the course when play was called due to darkness at 6:48 p.m.
    Those 10 will resume play this morning at 6:50 along with the first groups in the second round. Unfortunately for the ladies, more wind is in the forecast.