LOS ANGELES: Kim Hyo-Joo celebrated her 21st birthday by seizing a share of the first-round lead at the LPGA Marathon Classic on Thursday (Friday in Manila) alongside fellow South Korean Lee Mi-Rim and Japan’s Haru Nomura.
A bogey at her final hole, the par-four ninth at Highland Meadows, cost her the outright lead, but Kim wasn’t too discouraged.
“When I was in the practice rounds it was kind of dry, the greens kind of bounced a little bit. Last night it was raining so it’s a little bit softer green,” she said of her miscue. “I hit good shots, a lot of good shots, good drives good putts. It was just a great round.”
Kim, who opened the season with a victory in the Bahamas for her third LPGA title, had six birdies in a five-under 66 that put her level with Lee and Nomura on a crowded leaderboard, one stroke on front of Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, France’s Celine Herbin and American Kelly Shon.
New Zealand’s world number one Lydia Ko led a group of seven players a further stroke back on 68 that also included Canadian teen star Brooke Henderson.
Nomura’s seven birdies included four on the trot from the 11th through the 14th.
Nomura, who won the Women’s Australian Open in February and the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in April, said every aspect of her game was solid.
“Today putter is good, shots good, second number — everything smooth,” she said.
The tournament features all three of this year’s major winners — Ko, Brooke Henderson and Brittany Lang, winner of last week’s US Women’s Open.
Henderson got as low as four-under, but bogeyed her finishing hole, the ninth. She was encouraged to be so close to the lead, even though she said she didn’t have her best game.
“I got a lot of really good breaks, so hopefully tomorrow I can just clean up some tee shots a little bit, hit a little more fairways and just continue to make birdies and hopefully have a good score,” she said.
Ko climbed the leaderboard with back-to-back birdies at 17 and 18 — both par-fives.
“I love a par-five finishing hole,” said Ko, who won the tournament in 2014. “When there are two par-fives, especially anything can happen. When I won in 2014 I birdied the last to win by one. It makes it really exciting for the fans.”
South Korean Chella Choi made a modest start to her title defence. She had two bogeys and one birdie in a one-over par 72 that left her tied for 60th.