Amy Benz, a non-winner in over 13 years on tour, shot a tournament-record 7-under-par 64 Friday for a one-shot lead after the first round of the $750,000 ShopRite LPGA Classic.
Caroline Pierce, a nine-year veteran who is also looking for her first win, was second, a shot ahead of former champion Jane Geddes and rookie Wendy Doolan.Two-time defending U.S. Open champion Annika Sorenstam, Dottie Pepper, who won last week's Rochester International, and Sally Little headed a group at 67.
Forty-six players in a field that included nine of this year's 10 leading money winners broke the par of 71 on the 6,235-yard Greate Bay Resort and Country Club, just south of Atlantic City.
Benz had seven birdies and no bogeys in posting the best sub-par score in this event and tying the best opening-round score in relation to par in an LPGA event this year. The 64 matched the course record set by Pamela Wright in 1990, but that score was recorded when par was 70.
"I wish I didn't have to talk about not winning," said Benz, who is winless in 319 events since joining the LPGA in late 1983. "But you never know."
Benz' streak is the fourth longest among active LPGA players without a career win. Alice Ritzman (445), Robin Walton (423) and Stephanie Farwig (330) top the list. Benz and Ritzman are the only non-winners among the 60 members of the LPGA millionaire's club.
Benz, who had elbow surgery last year, almost ended her streak two weeks ago in Minnesota in her last event.
"I finished two shots off the lead," Benz, 34, said. "I was tied for the lead most of the round and hit a bad shot on 17. So I was there then and I'm just going to put myself there again this week. Eventually, it is going to happen."
Benz was terrific with her putter, making three birdies from 8 feet, two from 10 and two from 15.
"I can read these greens really well," said Benz, who has two top 10 finishes in this event, including a tie for second in 1993.
Pierce, who is winless in 212 events, was just as deadly with her putter, making six of her seven birdies from more than 10 feet.
Her only bogey came on the par-4 6th after hitting her second shot off a tree.
"You need to try to stay in contention whether it's 54 or 72 holes," said Pierce, 32, of England. "You get tired of answering that question (about winning)."
Pierce, Benz and Doolan, who had seven birdies and two bogeys, all had early morning tee times and benefited from calm conditions.
Geddes, who won this event in 1991, had to contend with the wind in the afternoon and performed well, making five birdies in a bogeyless round.