Ko hits 29 straight rounds un­der par

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY JOHN NI­CHOL­SON

Lexi Thomp­son fig­ured young friend Ly­dia Ko was dead in the woods to the left of the sev­enth fair­way.

“I didn’t know she had that kind of shot be­cause she was on an up­s­lope,” Thomp­son said. “I didn’t know she could keep it un­der the trees.”

Try­ing to tie An­nika Soren­stam’s LPGA Tour record for con­sec­u­tive rounds un­der par, the 17-year-old Ko was even par with three holes left Thurs­day in the first round of the ANA In­spi­ra­tion. And she was stuck be­hind five large trees.

“It was a pretty nasty place to be,” Ko said.

To es­cape, she needed to a hit a sweep­ing, low hook.

She did, with the ball scam­per­ing onto the green and stop­ping pin-high 25 feet to the right.

“I said, ‘I’m go­ing to try to hit the big­gest hook,’” Ko said. “It would have prob­a­bly looked re­ally bad, that swing on cam­era, but it ended up be­ing OK ... I had to hit it low enough and had to hit a sling­ing hook, so I didn’t end up in the bunker.”

The New Zealan­der two-putted for par, then hit a 6-iron to 18 inches on the 158-yard eighth to set up the birdie she needed to get un­der par. She closed with a par on the par-5 ninth for a 1-un­der 71 to match Soren­stam’s record of 29 straight rounds un­der par.

Ko was tied for 10th, four strokes be­hind first-round leader Mor­gan Pres­sel in the first ma­jor cham­pi­onship of the sea­son. Pres­sel won the 2007 tour­na­ment to be­come the youngest ma­jor cham­pion at 18 years, 10 months, 9 days.

“I kept the ball in play,” Pres­sel said. “I was never re­ally in ter­ri­ble po­si­tion.”

Ai Miyazato was sec­ond at 68, and Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, So Yeon Ryu, Alison Wal­she and Gwla­dys No­cera shot 69. The 54-year-old Inkster won in 1984 and 1989.

“I ac­tu­ally have been

hit­ting the ball fairly well the last cou­ple of weeks and I’ve been out with a bulky put­ter,” Inkster said. “To­day, I made a few putts and I made great par on 16.”

The top six played in the af­ter­noon, long af­ter strong wind tested the morn­ing starters on their open­ing nines at tree-lined Mission Hills.

Thomp­son, the de­fend­ing cham­pion, had a 72 play­ing along­side Ko in the morn­ing.

“I knew she would sal­vage the round,” Thomp­son said. “She might have been a lit­tle bit off to­day, but she has an amaz­ing short game and hit some in­cred­i­ble shots.”

The top-ranked Ko started the streak in the first round of her victory last year in the sea­son-end­ing event. Her world­wide streak is 32, count­ing her three rounds in her victory in the Ladies Euro­pean Tour’s New Zealand Women’s Open.

Soren­stam set the LPGA Tour mark in 2004.

With the wind gust­ing to 20 mph, Ko opened with a 14-foot birdie putt on No. 10 and made an 8-footer on 12. She bo­geyed 13, hit­ting into the front right bunker and leav­ing a 25-foot putt.

Af­ter Thomp­son hit into the front wa­ter on the 133-yard 14th with the wind gust­ing to 25-30 mph, Ko hit pin-high to the right and made the 15-footer.

“I had to play like 12 yards (for the wind), so I went up a club and a half,” Ko said.

Ko bo­geyed three of the next four holes to make the turn at 1 over.

Play­ing into a right-to-left cross­wind on the par-4 15th, she drove into the front of the left fair­way bunker. A half-foot from the lip, she chipped 30 yards to the fair­way and hit her 6-iron third to 35 feet.

On the par-4 16th, she drove left into rough on the front edge of a bunker. Her fair­way wood with the ball be­low her feet was short of the green in the left rough and she hit her third to 20 feet.

She was for­tu­nate to drop only one shot on the par-5 18th. Af­ter go­ing from the right to left rough and send­ing her third through the green, Ko hit a flop shot that ticked a palm tree and stopped in the fringe. Her down­hill putt raced 15 feet past, but she holed the come­backer.

“I would have never thought I would hit the tree that was like 3 yards away right on my tar­get,” Ko said. “But holed a good putt, so maybe that was the turn­ing point.”

Ko got back to even par on the par-5 sec­ond, chip­ping to a foot. She also chipped to a foot on the par-3 fifth af­ter miss­ing to the left.

She was too busy scram­bling to worry about the record.

“A record was the last thing was think­ing about,” Ko said.

Ko won in Australia in Fe­bru­ary — the week be­fore her New Zealand victory — for her sixth LPGA Tour victory. She has 10 world­wide ti­tles in pro­fes­sional events.

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