KUALA LUMPUR: New Zealander Lydia Ko carded a stunning seven-under par 64 to set the early pace at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, which teed off Thursday.
The 20 -year-old world number eight got off to a strong start with a birdie on her first hole at the TPC Kuala Lumpur, before ending her front nine with three consecutive birdies.
Three further birdies on the back nine saw her take the outright lead, ahead of trans-Tasman rival Su Oh in the US$1.8 million LPGA stop.
The Australian led for much of the round but three dropped shots after the turn leaves Oh a shot ahead of the of South Korean Eun-hee Ji, Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden and defending champion Shanshan Feng of China.
Leading first round scores (Par-71)
64 – Lydia Ko 🇳🇿
65 – Su Oh 🇦🇺
66 – Eun-hee Ji 🇰🇷, Madelene Sagstrom 🇸🇪, Shanshan Feng 🇨🇳
67 – Suzann Pettersen 🇳🇴, Candie Kung 🇹🇼
68 – Nelly Korda 🇺🇸, Jacqui Concolino 🇺🇸, Danielle Kang 🇺🇸, Minjee Lee 🇦🇺, Moriya Jutanugarn 🇹🇭, Sung-hyun Park 🇰🇷, Gaby Lopez 🇲🇽
Asked how it felt to shoot her best opening round of the year, Ko said: “I guess you never really know, because when you’re out there, you never think about, ‘hey, what’s my lowest round’ and all that. When you’re out there playing, you’re just trying to make as many birdies as you can and be in a good rhythm.
“I think playing well on the weekend last week really helped me coming into this week. I tried to stay positive, and every shot I hit, I tried to commit to it,” added thein-form Ko ,who has three top-three finishes in her last five tournaments.
Making her Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia bow, Oh raked up eight birdies in an aggressive display but believes there is still room for improvement.
“No, actually I didn’t have very high expectations. I just went out there and just played like cliché one shot at a time, kind of thing. I was off really early, and it was really dark when I got here. So I wasn’t sure if I could get a full warmup in, and just got enough time to have a full warmup.
“A couple of hiccups along the way, especially my tee-shots, which I can still work on,” shared the 21-year-old, who is gunning for her LPGA breakthrough.
With a record around the East Course that has seen her finish in the top two for the last four years, Feng was feeling relaxed as she got her title defence to a great start.
“I think I just started the round, [saying] ‘five-under is my goal today’, and actually, five-under [is what I got]. I’m not happy how I scored but if you look at my round, my ball-striking was super. I left myself so many birdie chances. I actually missed a couple out there. I think that’s a good thing to do. I think that means maybe I can still make more on the weekend,” said the Chinese professional.