Ly­dia Ko strug­gles in open­ing round in Arkansas

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - KURT VOIGT

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

GETTY IMAGES

Ly­dia Ko hits her ap­proach on the sev­enth hole at the NW Arkansas Cham­pi­onship yes­ter­day.

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