Alison Lee and Jenny Shin each reeled off four straight birdies in the middle of their rounds and joined Gaby Lopez at 7-under 65 Thursday to share a one-stroke lead after the first round of the LPGA Drive on Championship.
Lee, a 28-year-old American looking for her first tour win, birdied four of her first five holes. And, after a bogey at No. 16, her seventh hole, she pieced together a four straight birdies and five in the next six holes to reach 8 under at Superstition Mountain Golf Club before a bogey on her final hole dropped her into a three-way tie for the top spot of a crowded leaderboard.
Shin, a 30-year-old from South Korea looking for her first win since 2016, posted seven birdies from Nos. 8 through 18 to earn a share of the lead in the tour’s first full-field event of the season.
Lopez had a bogey-free round. The 29-year-old Mexican started on the back nine and made the turn at 4-under par before adding three birdies on the front side to tie for the lead.
Taiwan’s Wei-Ling Hsu and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff were tied for fourth after opening 66s. Ten players are tied for sixth place at 5 under, as 114 golfers in the 142-player field carded a score of even par or better. Play was suspended with one group left on the course, but none of the players threatening the leaders.
Lee, who made the cut in 22 of her 24 events last season with a T-5 as her best finish at the Women’s Scottish Open, felt she left some shots on the course.
“This sounds cliche, but I just feel like it was one of those days,” Lee said. “Golf just was easy. ... I honestly was playing so good I feel like I could have shot a lower round out there today.”
Shin, who had a third-place finish among her three top-10s last season, was buoyed by her recent finishes in Singapore and Thailand, where she found herself in contention.
“I’ve been out here for 13 years and the game of golf has changed so much,” Shin said. “The girls hit it so long and so straight and the putts are going in. ... So it was very refreshing and very nice to know that I was able to keep myself up there and know that I can do it as well.”
Lopez, a threee-time winner on the LPGA Tour, played the course for the first time in five years and said her focus this year is to take a lighter approach to her craft.
“I’m going to take it lighter this year,” she said. “Not going to play as many tournaments as I’ve done before, so going to take it a little easier on my body. Trying to enjoy a little bit more every single day out there.”
The 28-year-old Hsu posted the finest round of the morning wave. She got off to a fast start, one-hopping her second shot on the opening hole into the cup for eagle. She followed that with a birdie at the par-5 second, hitting her third shot from about 60 yards to 2 feet to get to 3 under after two holes. She finished at 6 under.
“Of course, I didn’t expect any like hole-out on very first hole,” said Hsu, whose lone win on the LPGA Tour came in 2021 at the Pure Silk Championship. “(This) feels like this is my first event of the year, so you don’t really think about anything. Like my first hole ... I thought my ball went over the green and disappear.”
No. 2-ranked Nelly Korda and No. 3-ranked Jin Young Ko opened with a 2-under 70s. Ko was a winner two weeks ago in Singapore, where she beat Korda by two strokes.
The event will debut the LPGA’s new cut policy. The cut after 36 holes will include the top 65 players and ties advancing to the weekend. Previously, the top 70 players and ties advanced to the final rounds.
Top-ranked Lydia Ko is not competing in the event. ... Defending champion Leona Maguire was in a logjam of players at 2-under 70. ... Danielle Kang withdrew from the event after 14 holes. She was at 2 over at the time. No reason was immediately given for Kang’s withdrawal.