Piller, Stanford in hunt at LPGA North Texas Shootout

Juli Inkster reacts to a missed putt on the 8th hole during the the LPGA North Texas Shootout at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving on Thursday
Juli Inkster reacts to a missed putt on the 8th hole during the the LPGA North Texas Shootout at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving on Thursday Star-Telegram

Fort Worth residents Gerina Piller and Angela Stanford lead a pack of 10 players within a stroke of the 5-under 66s shot by leaders Cristie Kerr, Juli Inkster and Sydnee Michaels after Thursday’s opening round of the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout, but Lydia Ko, the world’s top-ranked player, is in danger of missing her first LPGA cut in 51 events.

Ko, a New Zealand resident who celebrated her 18th birthday last week when she won the LPGA event in San Francisco, shot a 4-over 75 at Las Colinas Country Club in a round that was punctuated by a golf ball lost in a tree on No. 14 that led to triple bogey, double bogey and bogey on consecutive holes.

Ko’s third shot — a wedge from below the green on the par-4 No. 14 — got stuck in a tree. Even the tree-climbing and club-tugging efforts of caddie Jason Hamilton couldn’t shake the ball loose. The unplayable lie cost Ko a stroke and led to a triple bogey that dropped her from 2 under to 1 over on the round.

“Yeah, you just get those days where the things you least expect happens,” Ko said. “It’s kind of a pine tree, and it’s very spacey, and the last thing I expected was it to stay up.”

Hamilton needed a boost from another caddie just to reach the lower limbs.

“So I climbed up and shook the tree as well as I could for about three or four minutes without falling out, and to no avail,” said Hamilton, who got a round of spectator applause when he got back down. “That was probably a new record for me. I’m too old for climbing trees.”

Ko’s struggles continued on 15 and 16, and she was at 4 over heading to the 17th hole, but she parred out. Ko has made 50 LPGA cuts in a row, 15 as an amateur and 35 as a professional.

“I played pretty solid,” she said. “I left a couple of putts out there, but it was just like two shots that cost me.”

Ko, who leads the LPGA Tour in season earnings ($908,810), said Wednesday that she would donate this week’s winnings to relief efforts for Nepal’s earthquake victims.

“Yeah, all I can do tomorrow is try to make a couple birdies and put myself in hopefully position to try and make the cut,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to pull something amazing off.”

Piller’s and Stanford’s Thursday rounds were memorable for the right reasons. Piller had a bogey-free round. Stanford closed with birdies on 17 and 18.

“Putter was hot today for some reason, 26 putts,” Stanford said. “That was fun. That was fun to watch the ball go into the hole.”

Piller hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation, and putted from the fringe on one of the two she missed.

“Chipping out here is a little difficult just because it’s kind of tight and wet,” Piller said. “So hitting greens is definitely an advantage.”

Stanford, a graduate of Saginaw Boswell High School, said she was nervous for several early holes.

“There’s some extra nerves playing at home,” she said, “but it’s a lot more comfortable and it’s a lot of fun.”

Eric Zarate, 817-390-7237

Twitter: @zarate_eric

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