LYDIA KO TAKES AN EARLY LEAD IN THE CME GROUP TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP.
Lydia Ko, an 18-time LPGA Tour winner, didn’t know what to expect from Thursday’s CME Group Tour Championship when she bogeyed the par-5 first hole. But, in true Lydia Ko fashion, she found some magic at Tiburon Golf Club, birdieing 8 of her next 14 holes for a 7-under 65 and an early lead in the year’s final event. The 65 is Ko’s lowest first-round score in the CME Group Tour Championship and ties her for the season’s second-lowest opening round.
It’s only the third time this year that she’s opened with a 65 or better – she last opened with a 65 at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, where she finished in a tie for fifth – and Ko was proud of her ability to recover after that bogey on the first, which other players may have interpreted as a bad omen.
“It wasn’t the start I had hoped for when I went to bed last night, but I knew there was plenty of golf to be played,” Ko said. “Regardless of the circumstances, I believe that with the wind howling today, it was going to be a difficult stretch of holes to begin.” So I tried not to get too caught up in how I started and instead stayed patient out there. That, I believe, will be a major focus this week. There are 72 holes. The LPGA’s top 60 players are in town this week, so you know there will be plenty of good golf. You’re just trying to keep up with the others.”
Ko won the CME Group Tour Championship in 2014 with a par on the fourth extra hole after defeating Carlota Ciganda and Julieta Granada in a playoff. Ko has evolved both on and off the golf course in the nine years since that victory. But the competitiveness remains, and with the Rolex Player of the Year award, the Vare Trophy, and a $2 million winner’s check on the line, you can bet Ko will attack Tiburon Golf Club and give it her all over the next 54 holes.
“I think when you come to a golf course where you’ve played for a while, you can gauge that you’re going to have some good days and bad days, but I’m hoping to kind of bring it all together,” Ko said. “My last victory here was in 2014, nine years ago, and a lot has changed since then.” I believe the level of play has steadily improved during my time on Tour. So I know that if I did exactly the same thing today, I might not be the one holding the trophy. So all I’m trying to do is play the best golf I can. That’s all I can think of.
After matching 6-under 66s, Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn and major champion Danielle Kang are tied for second. Kang was bogey-free on the first day of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon, hitting 14 of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens, and her 66 is now her lowest first-round score in the CME Group Tour Championship. Kang will continue to focus on the swing changes she’s been working on with longtime coach Butch Harmon as she prepares for the next three rounds, tweaks that have made a world of difference for the six-time LPGA Tour winner since her return to competitive golf in August after undergoing treatment for a tumor on her spine.
“I’ve been working with Butch on a variety of mechanics, and I know he’s simplified a lot of things.”
“I have a bunch of notes written on my glove because I can’t remember the basics, but when I do it right, I miss it in the right places,” Kang explained. “I’m getting more chances. I know it’s only Thursday, but I’m really pleased with my performance today. So we’ll take it day by day.”
Last year, Anannarukarn became a Rolex First-Time Winner when she defeated Emma Talley in a playoff at the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland. Though she admitted that playing in the wind was difficult on Thursday, she claims that it helps her focus. “I’m not going to lie, but I find it a little difficult whenever you play in windy conditions,” Anannarukarn said. “I feel like I just try to stay focused on every single shot that I can.” Especially when there is strong or gusty wind. Just try your hardest to stay focused.”
Two players are tied for fourth at -5: Rolex First-Time Winner Gemma Dryburgh and Hyo Joo Kim, winner of the 2022 LOTTE Championship presented by Hoakalei, who is playing in the United States for the first time since the Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G in September. Seven players are tied at -4, including the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 1 player. Nelly Korda, Anna Nordqvist of the 2021 AIG Women’s Open, and Brooke Henderson of the 2022 Amundi Evian. Jin Young Ko, the two-time defending champion, started with an even-par 72 and is currently tied for 35th.