Tanco travels route 66 to lead

Thursday, July 2, 2009
Victoria Tanco hits a fairway shot during Wednesday's opening round. (Kit Doyle)

The Argentinian opened a three-shot lead in the first round.

Four practice strokes, solid contact, bottom of the cup.

A back-nine changing par save.

Meet Victoria Tanco -- cool, calm and collected.

Tanco posted a 6-under-par 66 to lead the Rolex Tournament of Champions by three strokes after Wednesday's opening round at Dalhousie Golf Club.

"That was a really good par," Tanco said. "If I bogey there, it's tough to keep going. But that par is what I needed to go to the next hole."

Tanco, currently ranked fifth in the Polo Junior Golf Rankings, lives in Argentina yet spends her summers in the United States at a golf academy in Bradenton, Fla.

"Whenever I don't have tournaments here, I go back to my country," Tanco said. "Then when I have tournaments, I come here."

Tanco, who will be a junior in high school, first arrived in Bradenton at the age of 12 and was told she could come back every summer if she wished. She took that offer. She practices in the morning and afternoon then works out in the evenings at the academy.

"I miss it because it's your country and my father is there," Tanco said of Argentina. "But you know I'm doing golf here and I enjoy that."

Tanco started her opening round on fire. After a par on No. 1, she birdied the second, parred the third, then unleased three straight birdies to settle in at 4-under after six holes.

"Today I putted really good," Tanco said. "That's the thing I wasn't doing in the other tournaments."

She would settle down until No. 13, when an errant iron off the box at the 145-yard par 3 set up a spectacular par save.

After landing in the thick rough behind the green, Tanco's chip came out hot and rolled 15 feet past the cup. That's when her putter came through.

"I just hit a good putt," Tanco said. "I tried to make it and that's what I did."

Tanco would birdie the following hole and close out her round with a birdie on 18.

Nicole Zhang finished with a 3-under-par 69 after bogeying her final hole to hold second place by herself. She carded four birdies during a seven-hole stretch in the middle of her round to climb the leaderboard.

Austin Ernst fired a 2-under-par 70 to put herself in a tie for third.

"I didn't really make any putts," Ernst said. "But I hit the ball very solid."

Ernst had a roller-coaster round that included four bogeys, four birdies and an eagle on No. 7 from 78 yards out.

Ernst knows exactly what she has to do over the next three rounds to stay in contention.

"You just have to hit fairways and a lot of greens out here," Ernst said. "When you hit it in the rough, you get really penalized."

Doris Chen is one of the four players tied for third at 2-under. Ani Gulugian and Victoria Sungmin Park also are at 2-under.

"I played consistent," Chen said. "I need to keep up good course management."

But it was Tanco who stole the show with her consistency, playing her round without a bogey. She knows she has to stay focused and consistent if she wants to stay atop the leaderboard.

"I have to try and play like today, and play good, and try to keep leading," Tanco said. "Just hit fairways, greens, and try and make putts."

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