Lee starts strong to trail by three in Vegas

    Lee, the World No.5, had five birdies and two bogeys to card a three-under 69 in North Las Vegas on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT).

    She could have been forgiven for thinking she was back home in Perth, Western Australia, because she was accompanied on her round by her brother and fellow professional golfer, Min Woo, keenly watching on.

    Lee was three shots behind South Korea’s Sei Young Kim, who took advantage of ideal playing conditions to shoot a six-under 66.

    Las Vegas-area residents Danielle Kang and Rose Zhang were each just a stroke behind.

    Top-ranked Nelly Korda has some work to do to extend her three-tournament winning streak after shooting a 73. Lorena Ochoa, in 2008, was the last LPGA Tour player to win four in a row.

    The top-65 players plus ties after the first two days will advance to the third round, then the top eight players will compete in match play over the weekend.

    This tournament was entirely a match play event in its first three years, but the format changed this year and attracted easily the strongest field in its short history.

    Fifteen players broke par in the first round.

    Kim, the 2020 Player of the Year, began brilliantly with birdies on six of her first 10 holes. She answered a bogey on the par-4 14th with a birdie two holes later.

    “The front nine I didn’t expect to play that well,” Kim said.

    Shadow Creek is Kang’s home course, but she isn’t assuming anything this week. She finished in the top-five in the world ranking in 2019 and 2020 and in the top-20 the following two years, but announced in 2022 that a tumour was discovered on her spine.

    Her ranking dropped to 48th last year and she entered this tournament No.59, so a strong showing this week could get the 31-year-old headed in the right direction.

    Zhang doesn’t call Shadow Creek home, having played the course just twice, but she gets to stay home this week.

    After becoming the first woman to win college golf’s national championship twice, in 2022 and 2023, she left Stanford last year and then won in her first pro start. Only increasing the already lofty expectations for Zhang.

    But Zhang, 20, is still searching for her second victory after the electric start to her career, and she has put herself in a good early position.

    “I gave myself many opportunities,” Zhang said.

    © Golf Australia. All rights reserved.

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