Sandra Gal of Germany got off to a sizzling start on Thursday and ended the day with an eight-under 64, seizing a one-shot lead after the first round of the LPGA Titleholders.
Gal teed off on the 10th hole at Tiburon Golf Club and reeled off six straight birdies.
She then played par golf until a lone bogey of the day came at the par-three fifth, but she bounced back with birdies at six, eight and nine to match the tournament record and edge ahead of Canada’s Rebecca Lee-Bentham.
Gal, 28, said she opted to attack from the start in the final event of the season, which is open to players with top-three finishes this year.
“I thought this tournament was a little different than the other ones, so I thought I’m just going to be really aggressive and just go for everything, because really all you want to do is win here,” Gal said. “Any other place it doesn’t really matter that much. So that’s kind of the mindset I had and I think that really helped me, and I just kept rolling in putts. Started with six in a row, so that was kind of fun.”
Lee-Bentham also teed off on 10, opening with back-to-back birdies. She added two more birdies at 13 and 14, and another two shots at 17 and 18, before her only bogey of the day at the second.
She made two more birdies coming home, including at the par-four ninth, her last, giving her sole possession of second place ahead of Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, China’s Feng Shanshan and US teenager Lexi Thompson.
Feng holed out for an eagle at her last hole, the ninth, to grab her share of third on 66.
Sandra Changkija of the US was alone in sixth place after a 67, while world No. 1 Inbee Park headed a group of six players sharing seventh on four-under 68.
New Zealand’s 16-year-old Lydia Ko, who is making her professional debut at this final event of the season, carded a one-under 71 that put her tied for 30th in a group that also included defending champion Choi Na-yeon of South Korea and Taiwan’s Candie Kung.
Although Ko has won four professional tournaments as an amateur — including back-to-back LPGA Canadian Women’s Open titles, she admitted her first round as a professional was fun, but “hectic.”
“I tried not to think too much about it and stay calm,” said Ko, who will become an LPGA Tour member next season. “It didn’t feel too odd or special, or slow or whatever today. That actually surprised me, I thought I would be much more nervous and actually one of the good things was I actually wasn’t thinking about any money or related stuff, I just tried to play my game.”
Ko ran into trouble with a double-bogey six at the third and a bogey at the seventh, but she responded with birdies at the eighth, 12th, 15th and 17th.
“I gave myself opportunities, and par is sometimes good and all I can do is just set up birdie putts, and then some will go in and some won’t,” she said.
Earlier on Thursday, eight teams were named for next year’s LPGA International Crown matchplay tournament based on the world rankings of the nations’ players.
Taiwan, Australia, Japan, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand and the US are set to contest the first edition of the biennial event in July next year at Caves Valley Golf Club in Maryland.
The four players whose rankings insured South Korea’s qualification were were Park, Ryu So-yeon, Choi and I.K. Kim.
However, if any of them falter at the start of next season, world No. 14 Shin Ji-yai or No. 15 Amy Yang could play their way onto the team.
The final rosters for the pre-qualified countries will be set on March 31, which is the Monday before next season’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
The International Crown will feature three days of team four-ball matches, before Sunday singles matches.
The eight countries will be split into two pools and each country will play two four-ball matches versus each of the other three countries in the pool.
The top two point-earning teams from each pool and one wild-card team will advance to singles play.
The team with the highest four-day point total will win.
Ryu predicted the wealth of talent among South Korea’s golfers would make for fierce competition to make the team, with players eager for a chance to represent their country in a global tournament.
“Also, you know, we’re going to play the Olympics in 2016, so it’s going to be a really great warmup before we play the Olympics,” Ryu said.
Additional reporting by staff writer