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Top rookie shares 1st round LPGA lead in S. Korea

2017/10/12 16:38

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By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- LPGA rookie sensation Park Sung-hyun shot to the top of the leaderboard on her home soil with a flawless round Thursday.

Park carded a bogey-free round of six-under 66 to tie for the opening round lead at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship on the Ocean Course at Sky 72 Golf & Resort, near Incheon International Airport.

Park, world No. 2, is joined at the top by Kim Min-sun of South Korea and Minjee Lee of Australia after a cold and windy day.

Park is a virtual lock to win the Rookie of the Year this year, on the strength of her two victories, including her first major at the U.S. Women's Open in July. Park is also the money leader with a little over US$1.9 million.

Prior to this tournament, Park said she'd been hitting good shots in practice and she had high expectations for herself.

"It's great to have such a great start," Park said. "I hope I can finish well, too. I always feel comfortable playing at home, and I fed off the energy of the fans here."

  

Park Sung-hyun of South Korea tees off at the sixth hole in the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017, in this photo provided by the tournament organizing committee. (Yonhap) Park Sung-hyun of South Korea tees off at the sixth hole in the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017, in this photo provided by the tournament organizing committee. (Yonhap)

In the first round at the 2015 tournament, Park set a course record here with a 10-under 62.

Park said her putting was a big part of her first-round success, adding that holding a few mid-range putts helped her along the way.

Kim, one of a dozen players from the Korea LPGA (KLPGA) competing this week, had seven birdies against one bogey. After teeing off at the 10th hole, Kim birdied her final five holes to shoot to the top of the leaderboard.

Lee had eight birdies against two bogeys.

Park has said the one award she'd most like to win is the Vare Trophy, presented to the player with the best scoring average. She entered this tournament ranked second in the category at 69.092 strokes per round, behind Lexi Thompson of the United States, who's averaging 69.015 strokes per round.

Park bested her two playing partners, world No. 1 Ryu So-yeon (72) and No. 3 Thompson (69), in the day's most glamorous group.

"I've played with them before so there wasn't any pressure on me," Park said. "I was able to focus on my own game."

   South Korean players have combined for 13 wins in 27 LPGA tournaments so far this year.

Kim Min-sun of South Korea tees off at the 11th hole in the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017, in this photo provided by the tournament organizing committee. (Yonhap) Kim Min-sun of South Korea tees off at the 11th hole in the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017, in this photo provided by the tournament organizing committee. (Yonhap)

Kim Min-sun, who has had one victory in each of her past four KLPGA seasons, said she became gradually more confident as the round wore on.

"On the front nine, I missed a few birdie opportunities because I over-read some greens," Kim said. "But on the back nine, things came together on the greens, and I regained my confidence."

   There were four more South Korean players in the top 10 after Park and Kim. Park Min-ji and Chella Choi were in fourth place together at five-under, while Ko Jin-young and Kim Ji-hyun tied for ninth at four-under.

Of those four, Park Min-ji, Ko and Kim Ji-hyun are KLPGA players.

Choi, seeking her first LPGA win since July 2015, traded a birdie with a bogey on the front nine, and then reeled off five consecutive birdies to close out her round.

"I didn't play well out of the gate, though I made some difficult par saves," she said. "I thought the 14th hole was the most difficult hole, and after a birdie there, I started playing more aggressively."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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