Lydia Ko struggles in opening round in Arkansas
Just one round in and already Lydia Ko’s chances of defending her title at the NW Arkansas Championship look slim.
The world No 2 struggled yesterday in mixing four birdies with three bogeys for a one-under par 70 and a share of 53rd place, seven shots behind Sung Hyun Park of South Korea.
With just three rounds in the LPGA event, Ko will need to go flag-hunting over the next two days to have any chance of ending her 11-month title drought.
Park has said one of her goals this season on the LPGA Tour is to win the Rookie of the Year award and she might add the title of ‘‘winner’’ to her resume well before any season-ending awards, particularly after opening with an eight-under 63.
Park finished with nine birdies on her way to nearly matching the course record of 62, needing only 24 putts to take a two-shot lead over Mel Reid, Ally McDonald and So Yeon Ryu.
"My play was best with the putter today, very good,’’ Park said.
As soon as I hit it, I thought ‘Oh it’s got a chance’. Mel Reid on her hole-in-one.
Reid also reached as low as eight under midway through her round, making a hole-in-one on the par-3 11th. She used a 9-iron on the 135-yard hole, hitting it just past the flag before it spun back and rolled into the hole.
‘‘As soon as I hit it, I thought, ‘Oh, it’s got a chance’,’’ Reid said.
Local favourite Stacy Lewis and 56-year-old Juli Inkster were at 66 along with Felicity Johnson, Moriya Jutanugarn, and Katherine Kirk.
The 34-year-old Park won seven times and was the top earner last year on the Korean LPGA tour, but she also played in seven LPGA Tour events with an eye on making the move to the US. She has finished in the top 10 four times this year, nine times in her 19 total LPGA Tour appearances.
All that is lacking to solidify her rapid rise into the ranks of the LPGA’s elite is a victory, possibly this weekend in advance of next week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
‘‘I wasn’t really surprised to see how well (Park) is (playing),’’ fellow South Korean Ryu said. ‘‘Even last year, she played a few LPGA tournaments as a non-member, but she would finish top-five, top-10. I think she is a really great golfer, and it’s a matter of how comfortable she is on the tour.’’
Park played in the humid and overcast conditions during the morning at Pinnacle Country Club, avoiding a 46-minute weather delay and gusty conditions during the afternoon.
She entered the tournament fourth in the LPGA Tour in driving distance, and she lived up to that, booming 290-yard drives on the 7001-yard course.
Ryu was the only player in the afternoon to come within two shots of Park’s morning round, capping her round by reaching the par-5 18th in two and two-putting for her sixth birdie and a bogey-free round.
‘‘I had two weeks off and was really fresh to play,’’ Ryu said. -AP
Lydia Ko hits her approach on the seventh hole at the NW Arkansas Championship yesterday.