Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - Stage I winner Moriya Jutanugarn, Kathleen Ekey and Kim Welch all fired 4-under 68s on Wednesday to share the lead after one round of the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament.
This high-stakes, five-day event features 122 golfers battling it our for a spot on the 2013 LPGA Tour. Only the top 40 finishers and ties will earn a tour card for next season.
The field consists of qualifiers from Stages I and II, as well as current LPGA Tour members looking to improve their status for 2013, and players who finished Nos. 11-20 on the Symetra Tour money list (who do not already have LPGA status). They are competing at the Champions and Legends courses at LPGA International.
Rebecca Lee-Bentham and Ashleigh Simon both carded a 69 on Wednesday, while U.S. Curtis Cup Team member Brooke Pancake and current JLPGA member Chie Arimura highlight a group of 14 tied at 2-under-par 70.
Karlin Beck, Fiona Puyo, Stephanie Sherlock and Maria Hernandez are currently tied for 20th place at minus-1. The top 20 players at the event's conclusion will receive Priority in Category 12. If there is a tie for 20th place, the final Category 12 spot will decided in a playoff. All other ties will be broken on the basis of the lowest, most recent round at the Final Qualifying Tournament.
Stage II winner and former University of South Carolina standout Katie Burnett shot 72 to reside in a large group tied for 24th place. Two-time LPGA Tour winner Christina Kim is also in that group.
Caroline Masson, No. 50 in the Rolex Rankings, carded a 76, while four-time LET winner Melissa Reid stumbled to a 79.
Last year's winner Numa Gulyanamitta is not in the field this week. She finished 87th on the 2013 money list to retain her LPGA Tour card.
Christine Song, who ended two strokes back of Gulyanamitta a year ago, is back in the field. She sits at 2-over after recording a double-bogey, a bogey and a birdie on Wednesday.
Jutanugarn, a Bangkok, Thailand native who won Stage I at LPGA International in September, continued her strong play with five birdies en route to a share of the first-round lead.
She began her day on the Legends course with a par before bogeying the par-5 second. She rebounded with a stretch of pars before carding consecutive birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 to make the turn at 1-under.
Jutanugarn then alternated birdies and pars from Nos. 12 through 16 before wrapping up her round with a pair of pars.
Ekey also carded five birdies against a single bogey, while the California native Welch highlighted her 4-under round with an eagle on No. 18 at the Champions course.
NOTES: Players finishing in the 21st-45th spots will earn Priority in Category 17 ... A total of five amateurs are in the tournament field ... After 72 holes, the field is cut to the top 70 and ties, then the remaining field will play the Champions Course for the final round on Sunday ... Last year, Gulyanamitta carded her second straight 4-under 68 in the final round to come from behind and win medalist honors. She ended the 5-round marathon at 10- under 350. Her best finish this year was a tie for 21st at the U.S. Women's Open Championship in July.