KUALA LUMPUR: There was no sign of nerves on the first tee for Kelly Tan as she got her campaign at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia off to a solid start on Thursday.
The country’s sole LPGA professional posted a one-under 70 at the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club to lie five strokes behind leaders Xi Yun Lin of China and American rookie Alison Lee, who fired identical six-under 65s.
A three-putt bogey on the last meant that titleholder Shanshan Feng of China was a shot back in a four-way tie for third alongside South Korean Chella Choi as well as Major winners Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie.
Inbee Park, the top-ranked player in women’s golf, opened her campaign at the US$2 million tournament with a three-under 68 while teenage phenom and world number two Lydia Ko settled for an even-par effort.
Making her fourth appearance at the tournament, Tan was the best placed Malaysian in the field in tied-22nd – four shots better than supermom Cindy Lee-Pridgen, who failed to sustain a strong early display to return with a three-over 74.
A run of double bogeys in her opening nine proved Michelle Koh’s undoing as a poor 77 left her just ahead of national amateur Nur Durriyah Damian and professional Ainil Johani Abu Bakar, who were rooted at the bottom of the leaderboard with rounds of 79 and 80 respectively.
After a quiet start which yielded two bogeys against a birdie, 21-year-old Tan took advantage of a three-hour weather suspension to regroup her composure and came out of the gates blazing with birdies on the 15th and 17th to keep the local hopes in good stead.
“Played great all day. Ball striking been really good. Just didn’t have those putts going in the first few holes. But on the back nine, everything really started to come back together and I was really pleased because I had stayed patient all round,” said Tan.
The decorated former national added that she felt calm on the first tee box, despite the presence of a voracious band of supporters, who made the journey north from her native Batu Pahat in Johor.
“It was better than what I though it would be. I spoke to my coach about it yesterday and he suggested some breathing control exercises, which did wonders for my mindset. I was very pleased with the way I dealt with the pressure because despite feeling nervous, it wasn’t like I couldn’t hit that first tee,” noted Tan.
Lee-Pridgen was one-under through her first six holes but rued a couple of costly three-putts on the way home, ending her round with back-to-back dropped shots.
“I’ve always struggled on the last few holes here and definitely three-over was not the outcome I was looking for but there was lots of positives in the round, especially the three birdies I sank.
“I stuck to my gameplan throughout, laying up when I need to but my chipping was a little rusty and left me some long putts, which I couldn’t convert. But there’s a lot of golf left and I’m feeling really upbeat,” said the 39-year-old mother of two.
Leading first round scores
65 – Xi Yu Lin (CHN), Alison Lee (USA)
66 – Yani Tseng (TPE), Shanshan Feng (CHN), Michelle Wie (USA), Chella Choi (KOR)
67 – Amy Yang (KOR), Sakura Yokomine (JPN), Ha Na Jang (KOR)
68 – Sandra Gal (GER), Baek Kyu-jung (KOR), Mika Miyazato (JPN), So Yeon Ryu (KOR), Inbee Park (KOR), IK Kim (KOR)
69 – Jaye Marie Green (USA), Jessica Korda, Mi Hyang Lee (KOR), Candie Kung (KOR), Minjee Lee (KOR), Pornanong Phatlum (THA)
70 – Kelly Tan
74 – Cindy Lee-Pridgen
77 – Michelle Koh
79 – Nur Durriyah Damian
80 – Ainil Johani Abu Bakar