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Golf - 30. September 2011.

Kirkland claims first round lead in France

Cassandra Kirkland claimed the first round lead at the Lacoste Ladies Open de France on Thursday with a superb round of eight under par 64 in ideal conditions.

The 26 year-old Parisian moved one stroke clear of fellow Frenchwoman Virginie Lagoutte-Clement with nine birdies and one bogey on a warm afternoon at Paris International, while Norwegian Marianne Skarpnord ended the day a shot further behind.

Kirkland, from nearby Saint Nom la Bretèche, burst out of the blocks with three opening birdies and took a single bogey at the sixth. Three more birdies from the seventh followed, with another trio on the way in.

She knows the course well from playing the yearly 'Pro Am of Paris' at the same venue and finished tied for 16th at last year's Open de France, but a 64 lowered her career best round by two shots.

"I feel really happy. I didn't really have many expectations. I know I played well last year and I've been playing really well lately. I was just hoping I could shoot under par and I shot quite low so that's good," said the fifth year Ladies European Tour professional.

After a season-best tie for ninth place at the Open de Espana a fortnight ago, she is in a rich vein of form but will have to maintain the low scoring if she is to hold off Lagoutte-Clement.

The 32-year-old from Montelimar will be hungry for her fourth LET victory after three top-five finishes in 2011.

She said: "I'm so happy. I played not very good on the back nine, my first nine, it was very tricky and I tried to play safely and make pars. I played a birdie on hole 17 and 18 and after, it's more easy to play on the first nine. I'm so happy because my putting was very good today and I played well."

Skarpnord had an outward 34 but burst into action after the turn with four birdies on the way in.

"It's the best round I've played this year so I'm pretty happy about the score," said the 25 year-old, who has endured something of a difficult year after starting the season with a shoulder injury.

After two wins on Tour in 2009 in Switzerland and Italy, she is now down to 78th on the Henderson Money List.

"I've been playing pretty good lately but I haven't been making any putts so I'm glad it finally came," Skarpnord said.

She is one clear of Spain's Tania Elosegui, Australian Stacey Keating and England's Sophie Walker, while the 2010 event champion, Trish Johnson of England, is one of five players a stroke back on four under par.

"You couldn't play in any better conditions than that, so the course is playing short," Johnson said. "I putted pretty well so four under is pretty much par for the course."

The three time event winner added: "I like this golf course, obviously. Clearly from last year I like it and they've shortened it, which is a shame, but it's the same for everybody. It's going to take a lot to win this week. I think it's going to be up near 20 under so I'm going to have to start hitting the ball better than I did today."



Johnson was an on-course television commentator for Sky Sports at The Solheim Cup in Ireland last week and she revealed: "After last week, not playing, but being on the other side of the camera, which was incredibly hard work, it made me quite appreciate playing."

The two members of last week's winning European Solheim Cup Team in the field, Laura Davies and Caroline Hedwall, were both round in three under par.
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