Aramco Team Series opener is unusual in a few ways

CLEARWATER, Florida — The scheduling for the Aramco Team Series opener was unusual, its opening event being slated opposite the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational just an hour away in Orlando.

With a teeoff Friday on International Women’s Day, the Aramco event is unusual enough. Imagine a women’s team event — one put on by the Ladies European Tour (LET) with $1 million in prize money provided by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which also bankrolls the controversial men’s LIV Golf League — being played on American soil.

After this tourney concludes on Sunday, the series will have stops in South Korea, London and Saudi Arabia.

This women’s tourney at Feather Sound Country Club has a stellar field. The 82 players come from 24 countries and own 39 wins on the European Tour, nine on the LPGA Tour and three in major championships.

Though it’s an LET event, the field includes American stars Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lincicome, Marina Alex and Megan Khang. Top Europeans are England’s Charley Hull and Bronte Law and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, who won the tournament last year at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Ciganda and Alex were the only ones among those hotshots to show top form in Friday’s Round 1. Both carded 6-under-par 66s to share the lead with Chloe Williams, of Wales, and Kim Metraux, of Switzerland.

Defending champion Ciganda had a great start (birdies on the first two holes) and a solid finish. “I birdied three of my last five holes. I’m very happy,’’ she said.

This year’s tournament was under the radar because lining up a U.S. site was a slow process. Feather Sound wasn’t assured of hosting until five weeks ago, a very short time for tournament preparation. First-round play was also slow, reaching 5½ hours at the end of the day on Friday.

This event, though, is being contested in four-player teams (of three pros and one amateur) for two days. It’s the only team series on any of the pro golf tours.

After 36 holes the top 60 pros will compete for individual prize money in Sunday’s final round with no qualms about going head-to-head with the $20 million Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of the “elevated’’ events on the PGA Tour schedule.

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