South Korean Choi Na-yeon and American Jessica Korda shot sizzling nine-under-par 64s yesterday to share the lead in the first round of the inaugural Reignwood LPGA Classic, four strokes ahead of the rest of the field.
The US$1.8 million competition — the LPGA’s first event in China — is being played at the par-73 Jack Nicklaus-designed Reignwood Pine Valley Golf Club near Beijing.
Tied in third place at five-under-par 68 were Seo Hee-kyung and Park Hee-young, both of South Korea, as well as Stacy Lewis of the US.
Choi made four straight birdies from the 15th hole, while Korda picked up five shots on her first eight holes to match her career-low for the round. Neither made a bogey.
“I’m kind of going after it,’’ said Korda, who like Choi is looking for her first win of the season.
“It seems to be a really good golf course. It suits my eye. I’m excited for what the next three days bring,” the American added.
Another eight golfers were jammed at 69, including China’s Ye Liying, England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, Colombia’s Paola Moreno and South Korea’s Park In-bee, the world No. 1-ranked women’s player.
The Ladies Professional Golf Association is holding the tournament in conjunction with the China Golf Association and China LPGA.
The 81-player field includes a total of 18 Chinese golfers. Feng Shanshan, who won the Wegmans LPGA Championship last year, was one of seven golfers tied for 14th place with a three-under-par 70.
The top two Taiwanese players in the first round were Candie Kung and Yani Tseng, who shot a 71 and 72 respectively.
Compatriots Shang Lin-yan and Yan Pan-pan languished at the bottom of the pack with scores of 78 and 79 respectively.
Korda looked set to take sole possession of the lead before Choi’s late charge in the last group of the day. Choi said her run of birdies came as a surprise.
“I feel I had a perfect game out there especially those last four holes,’’ Choi said. “I didn’t expect to have four birdies on the finish. I finished very strong.”
“I played one [South] Korean tournament last week, but I didn’t finish well so I didn’t expect to play well today, actually. I just tried to be more relaxed out there,” she added.
Choi rose as high as second in the rankings this season before falling back to sixth place.
She credited her improved play yessterday in part to the return of her caddy Paul Fusco after a short break.
“It helped a lot. Especially the last few months my putting didn’t work very well,’’ Choi said. “But today every time I went to putt, he would say good aim or gave me a lot of trust or confidence. I think that’s why my putting was working really well today.’’
As first LPGA tournament in China, the event is putting a lot of focus on the country’s homegrown talent and sole major winner, Feng, and compatriot Ye.