MARION — She likes the wind. And she loves the par-fives.
“Par-fives should be easy for me, the way I hit the ball,” said Kathleen Ekey. “My dad will be pleased to see I birdied all of them today.”
Ekey played nearly flawless golf in the first round of the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge on Friday at Hunters Ridge Golf Course. The 24-year-old — a native of Ohio and a 2010 graduate of the University of Alabama — shot a 5-under-par 67 and leads by three strokes through one round.
“My game is starting to come together,” she said. “I’ve just got to stick to my process, not get ahead of myself, not get too high or too low emotionally.”
Ekey collected five birdies and no bogeys. She hit her first 17 greens in regulation, missing the 18th green by couple of feet.
She more than survived in 90-degree conditions and winds that gusted around 30 miles per hour.
Nos. 2, 6, 12 and 17 are par-five holes. She birdied all of them, plus a 3 on the par-four No. 9.
“I always play well in the wind,” she said.
Ekey was an exception to the rule Friday. Of the 142 golfers who started, only three broke par.
One of them was Paz Echeverria, the five-time Chilean National Player of the Year. She shot a 2-under 70, including an eagle at No. 6.
Echeverria, 22, competed in the LPGA HSBC Brazil Cup last week, placing 11th and earning more than $16,000.
“That was really the glue for this round,” Echeverria said. “I am much more confident now.”
Echeverria is used to playing smaller courses in South America — this is her fifth competitive event in the United States.
“I feel I’m learning something new every day,” she said.
And her lesson Friday?
“I learned I could play in the wind,” she said. “I always have problems in the wind; it’s really a big challenge. I’m proud of myself for beating the wind.”
Echeverria needed only 11 puts on her front-nine 33.
Mo Martin was Friday’s other par-breaker. She shot 71.
Lisa Ferrero, who ranks No. 2 in 2011 Futures Tour earnings (money leader Ryann O’Toole did not come to Hunters Ridge this weekend), blazed early, then faded late.
Ferrero, who started on the back nine, went out in 32 before three bogeys and a double bogey got her back to ever par at round’s end.
“My first nine was fine, but I made a lot of mental errors (late),” she said. “That shouldn’t happen.
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”
Play continues Saturday, with the top 70 (plus ties) advancing into Sunday’s final round. After Friday’s play, the cut line is plus-6.