Lewis saunters ahead at KLGCC

Stacy Lewis ©Eddie Putera|The ClubHouse
Stacy Lewis ©Eddie Putera|The ClubHouse

Kuala Lumpur: World number one Stacy Lewis took the stifling heat in her stride as she fired an opening six-under 66 to take a slim one-shot lead at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia on Thursday.

The American drained six birdies in a faultless display, with the decisive one coming on the par-five 16th to help her pull away from a tight leaderboard at the East Course of Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.

Tied second were the South Korean quartet of 2011 champion Na Yeon Choi, Hee Young Park, Eun Hee Ji and So Yeon Ryu. Another South Korean Amy Yang and China’s Shanshan Feng were among a bunch tied for sixth after shooting 67s.

World number three Lydia Ko, who was making her Malaysian debut was three shots off the pace after a 68 while defending champion Lexi Thompson returned with an even-par effort at the US$2 million tournament, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary.

Lewis shrugged off a shaky start to jump on the birdie bandwagon with back-to-back birdies through sixth before underlining her confidence with three consecutive gains around the turn.

“My goal was to shoot a one- or two-under on the front and I got off to a good start. It was kind of shaky on the first three holes but I just hung in there and gave myself a lot of birdie chances and I was fortunate to make a few. So it was a little bit of an ugly round, but I got a lot out of it,” said Lewis.

“I saw [on the leaderboard] that So Yeon got off to a hot start – she was five-under through seven holes or something like that and I knew I needed to start making some birdies to match that.”

Na Yeon Choi ©Eddie Putera|The ClubHouse
Na Yeon Choi ©Eddie Putera|The ClubHouse

Choi, who teed off from the 10th, said she was pleased to be only one stroke behind after nearly putting her ball in the water on her approach on the par-four second hole.

“I had one bogey out there, but I was lucky the ball did not roll into the water. I putted well all day but as it got hotter around noon, I lost focus a bit and missed a couple of fairways on the way in,” she said.

Feng finished tied for 49th in her native China last week, and was happy to be playing away from home this week. “I’m more relaxed,” said Feng.

“Last week, I think people wanted me to win again, and I told everybody I was not going to give myself pressure, but I think I still did a little bit. I tried too hard and actually it went the wrong way.”

Leading first round scores:
65 – Stacy Lewis (USA)
66 – So Yeon Ryu (KOR), Na Yeon Choi (KOR), Hee Young Park (KOR), Eun-Hee Ji (KOR)
67 – Feng Shanshan (CHN), Amy Yang (KOR), Jenny Shin (KOR), Mi Hyang Lee (KOR), Pornanong Phatlum (THA)
68 – Carlota Ciganda (ESP), Lizette Salas (USA), Karine Icher (FRA), Haru Nomura (JPN), Catriona Matthew (SCO)