LOS ANGELES: South Korea’s Lee Mi-Hyang fired a tournament-record 10-under par 62, the low score of her LPGA career, to seize a one-stroke lead after Thursday’s (Friday in Manila) opening round of the Founders Cup.
The 22-year-old from Seoul made her historic run as another South Korean, legend Pak Se Ri, announced her retirement after this season.
Lee began on the back nine at Phoenix, Arizona, and fired a 27, making seven birdies and an eagle to make the turn with a share of the lead. But Lee made only one birdie and eight pars on the front side, her second nine of the day, to miss a chance at a record-tying 59.
“First nine I didn’t know I shot nine-under,” Lee said, adding that she was never thinking about 59 during the round.
Lee claimed her only LPGA title at the 2014 Mizuno Classic in Japan, needing a birdie at the fifth extra hole to win a playoff. Lee also won the 2014 New Zealand Women’s Open on the Ladies European Tour.
American Brittany Lang and South Korean Kim Sei-Young shared second on 63 with Italy’s Giulia Sergas another stroke adrift.
Pak, 38, said she would retire from the LPGA at the end of the 2016 season. The first player from her homeland on the women’s elite tour has won five major titles and 25 LPGA crowns overall, inspiring generations of players from her homeland to follow her into the ranks of the LPGA’s greatest talents.
“So basically 2016 is my final season for the full-time tour,” Pak said. “It’s pretty hard to make [the]decision to be retiring. But I have so many successes and I’m trying to share all my skills and all these dreams [with younger players].
“I loved playing golf but now I have another dream. So this is my last year.”
Lee opened with a birdie at the 10th, eagled the par-5 11th and parred 12 before making six birdies in a row to fire 27 for nine holes, matching the leaders and threatening the LPGA all-time record low of 59.
“I thought I just had a lot of luck today, but I didn’t think that I can shoot 9-under,” Lee said.
Swedish star Annika Sorenstam fired the only 59 in LPGA history, shooting the 13-under score in the second round of the 2001 Standard Register PING tournament at Moon Valley Country Club, also in Phoenix.
Lee’s nine-under was the low nine-hole score in LPGA history in relation to par, the prior best being 8-under, and matched the fewest strokes taken over nine holes, only the fifth to shoot 27 for nine holes.
Pars down the stretch
After making the turn, Lee parred four holes in a row before making birdie at the par-5 fifth, leaving her to go 3-under on her last four holes to shoot 59.
She found rough on a greenside slope at the par-3 sixth but Lee blasted to 12 feet and rescued par.
At seven, Lee put her 81-yard wedge approach to eight feet but missed the birdie putt and settled for par. She parred the eighth as well to doom her 59 bid then nearly holed a birdie chip at 18 before closing with a par and a 62.
World No.1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand opened with a 70, eight strokes off the pace.