SINGAPORE: Michelle Wie revelled in being injury-free for the first time in years as she carded a superb 66 to lead after the first-round of the HSBC Women’s Champions Thursday.
The 27-year-old American shot a brilliant six-under-par round at Singapore’s brand new Tanjong course after needing a sponsor’s invite to play in the elite event featuring 19 of the world’s top 20.
Her round, played in wind and rain, featured eight birdies and a series of long putts, reminiscent of when she won the US Open in 2014 before injuries and a loss of form saw her tumble to 179th in the world.
“It feels good to play without much pain,” she said.
“To go out there and just play some golf and focus on my game rather than trying to finish out rounds. I’m very proud of myself today.”
Wie finished the day one shot clear of a group of five players, including the Rio Olympic champion Park In-Bee.
The South Korean signed for a 67 to join Canada’s Brooke Henderson, Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, American Mo Martin and Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand in a tie for second on a heavily congested leaderboard.
Park, playing just her second tournament since a six-month layoff, made five birdies in a bogey-free round but said she was still a long way off her best.
“I still feel like I’m a little bit rusty. Hopefully that rust goes away as quick as possible,” she said.
“One round doesn’t really matter. I have to do this for the rest of the three days, and that’s what it really takes to win a golf championship.”
Another five players, including former champions Stacy Lewis and Paula Creamer, were a further shot back at four-under as 20 players broke 70 on the opening day of the $1.5 million event, dubbed Asia’s major.
Ranked 11th in the world but joining the LPGA Tour for the first time after playing mostly in her home tour in South Korea, Park Sung-Hyun made seven birdies in her 68.
One of the longest hitters in the game, Park finished runner-up at last year’s Evian Championship, one of the five women’s golf majors, but only decided this year to join the LPGA Tour full-time.
Wie’s career has been in free fall since she captured her first major in 2014.
The Hawaiian of Korean heritage has had only one top-10 finish since the end of 2014 and made just 12 cuts from 25 events she entered in 2015.
Last month at the Australian Open, she suffered back spasms, triggering fears of another layoff, but showed no signs of discomfort as she strolled around the Sentosa Golf Club without a care in the world.
“It’s always exciting to be on the top of the leaderboard or near the top of the leaderboard,” she said.
“Even though it’s just the first day I want to just keep building and hopefully the next three days I can take it day-by-day, hole-by-hole, shot-by-shot and play as hard as I can.”
Wie made a slow start to her opening round Thursday with a bogey at the third.
But she charged to the top as she reeled off three birdies in a row at the fourth, fifth and sixth holes, then another three on the trot from the 11th.
Wie made her second bogey of the day on the 15th but picked up two more birdies to sign for a 66 and a new course record at the recently opened layout.
Wie said she would not be carried away by her sizzling start.
“It’s a marathon this week, it’s not a sprint,” she said.
“But I have to say I’m very proud of where I’ve positioned myself today, and hopefully the next three days I can keep it going, keep it rolling and keep having fun.”