US player Christina Kim turned up the heat on her inward run Thursday to seize a one-shot lead after the first round of the US$1.7 million LPGA State Farm Classic.
Runner-up here last year, Kim notched four birdies in a row from the 11th, and eagled the par-five 16th en route to a nine-under 63 at Panther Creek Country Club.
“It’s really exciting to be at the top of a leaderboard again,” said Kim, who is seeking her third LPGA Tour title. “I’ve been playing well again this year and am really happy to be nine-under.”
The 24-year-old Californian posted a total of seven birdies in her bogey-free effort.
She led South Korean Yoo Sun-young, who started on the back nine and tied the tour record by playing that side of the course in eight-under.
“[It was the] first time I hit eight-under for nine holes,” Yoo said. “Yeah, I feel really good out there.”
US golfer Kristy McPherson, who played a bogey-free round, and South Korea’s Lee Jee-young were tied for third at seven-under.
Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, at 66, shared fourth place with Anja Monke of Germany, Oh Ji-young of South Korea and Sherri Turner and Audra Burks of the US.
Playing in her sixth LPGA tournament of the season, Michelle Wie started on the back nine and overcame a bogey on the 10th with a brace of birdies and an eagle in her next four.
Despite finishing four strokes behind the leader at five-under, the 18-year-old Hawaiian said she could have done better.
“I missed birdie chances at the last three holes,” Wie said. “It’s great to shoot a low score, but today’s over and done with, and now I want to focus on tomorrow. There are a lot of birdie holes that I missed out on today and, hopefully, I can get them tomorrow.”
Defending champion Sherri Steinhauer, who went wire-to-wire last year to edge Kim by one stroke, struggled early.
She had three bogeys in her three-over 75.
Steinhauer, who could become the 16th player in tour history to surpass US$6 million in career earnings, is looking to become the fourth player to win this title in consecutive years and first since Beth Daniel in 1989-1990.
With the Evian Masters, the Women’s British Open and the Canadian Women’s Open looming on the schedule, a number of top players elected to skip this event.
World No. 1 Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam and American Paula Creamer are among the notable absentees.
“Bottom line, if someone wants to win, they’re going to win,” Kim said.
Kim, who said she had “defending runner-up jitters” on the first tee after her near-miss last year, birdied three, six and eight on her outward run.
“No. 3 was one of the key holes,” she said. “It was my first birdie of the day, and it was three perfect shots.”
At 11 she sank a birdie putt of 17 feet, made a nine-footer at 12, a 20-footer at 13 and a six-footer at 14.
She drained a 23-footer for her eagle at 16, and said she could have gone lower.
“All things considered, I left at least four putts out there easily within 15 feet,” Kim said. “There were a couple like the last two holes that were quite makeable.”
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