Park Sung-hyun on Thursday blasted her way up the leaderboard at the Women’s PGA Championship, using precision drives to fire a bogey-free 66 for a one-shot lead over four others.
The sweet-swinging champion of last year’s US Women’s Open got off to a roaring start in the opening round by rolling in a half-dozen birdies for a slim lead over Brooke Henderson, Jaye Marie Green, Jessica Korda and Brittany Altomare, who all shot five-under 67s.
“As the score says, it went pretty well, and I really liked how it felt when I did that,” Park said.
“The course was pretty wet today, but I felt comfortable, and I know that it’s going to be hotter and difficult as the round goes,” she said. “Of course, it’s a major tournament and I’m getting more nervous, but I’m doing my best.”
Two strokes back on 68 were Charley Hull, Laetitia Beck, Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand and Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Canada.
Canada’s Alena Sharp, Amy Olson, Lee Min-jee, two-time major winner Ryu So-yeon and 19-year-old Nasa Hataoka, who won last week, were three shots back of Park.
Of the 14 players who broke 70, only Park, Henderson and Ryu have won a major championship.
Park is taking advantage of this week’s long layout and riding the wave of a hot putter.
“I felt like something was missing, especially my putting, but this week I feel pretty comfortable and confident,” Park said. “I changed my putter, and I made some changes in the putting routine.”
Henderson, 20, is one of three Canadians in the top ten. She won her sixth LPGA title at the Lotte Championship in April. The 2016 champion of this event birdied seven of her final 10 holes at Kemper Lakes Golf Club.
“My front nine was a little bit rough, but I was happy to get a lot of birdies on the back nine and get myself back into it,” Henderson said. “It was a lot of fun. I just feel like I was hitting the ball great and making a lot of putts, so hopefully waking up early tomorrow morning and getting the next round started, it’ll carry on.”
Korda said she likes the layout after complaining that LPGA Tour courses they have been playing on lately have been too short.
“Finally a golf course that benefits the long hitters,” Korda said. “The last couple weeks it’s definitely been a lot of three-woods or even four-irons off the tees. I could finally hit drivers.”
Taiwan’s Min Lee carded a one-under 71 for a share of 32nd place, while Hsu Wei-ling’s even-par 72 was good for a share of 51st.
Yani Tseng was on two-over 74 in a group sharing 86th, while Kaohsiung-born Candie Kung of the US was tied for 120th on four-over 76 and Chien Pei-yun carded a five-over 77 to finish in a tie for 132nd.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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