OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Michelle Wie launched a 3-wood into swirling gusts and toward the 18th green, wondering if the shot had enough steam to get there. A shift in the wind took the guesswork out of the equation.
“It died down and I got a little surprise,” Wie said. “I got all the way there.”
The 215-yard shot rolled within 30 feet of the flag to set up a two-putt birdie and a 3-under 68 that left Wie two shots off the lead during the opening round Thursday in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She wasn’t the only long-hitter to benefit from windy conditions and a tough front nine at Olympia Fields Country Club.
Defending champion Brooke Henderson, from Smiths Falls, Ont., matched the 3-under start, which left her two back of Chella Choi and Amy Yang. Choi shot a 66 in the morning, and Yang was on the 18th hole at 5 under with a chance to grab the outright lead when play was suspended at 7:01 p.m. because of dangerous weather in the area.
Brittany Altomare shot a 67, and Joanna Klatten also was 4 under with two holes left.
Joining Henderson and Wie at 68 were Alison Lee and Su Oh. Kim Kaufman and Emily Pedersen also were 3 under late in their rounds.
“I was able to carry a couple of fairway bunkers, which is huge, because not a lot of players are able to do that,” Henderson said.
Hamilton’s Alena Sharp was tied for 37th at even-par 71.
The second major on the women’s tour is again being played at the site of previous men’s majors, where big tee shots can pay big dividends. Henderson won her first major at Sahalee last year, and Wie claimed her only major — the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open — at Pinehurst.
Praise for Olympia Fields, a tree-lined classic layout just south of Chicago, is nearly unanimous. But it’s being tempered by players struggling to navigate the changing wind, with gusts up to 16 mph. Oh called that a “massive” factor in her decision-making.
“We kind of anticipated it,” she said. “It’s the ‘Windy City.’ But it was like this from the very beginning and I stayed patient out there.”
The Women’s PGA marks the start of a stretch of three majors in six weeks, which should provide some clarity at the top of the game.
So Yeon Ryu, who beat Lexi Thompson in a playoff at the ANA Inspiration to claim the season’s first major, also took over the No. 1 spot this week after becoming the only repeat winner through the first 16 tournaments on the LPGA Tour. Ryu finished at 69, and Thompson at 70. Two-time major winner Lydia Ko also shot 70.
Ariya Jutanugarn, who slipped to No. 2 in the rankings after Ryu’s win last week in Arkansas, struggled to a 77, and Cristie Kerr shot 78.
The forecast for Friday calls for rain and slightly increasing wind. That could make things tougher for both Choi and Henderson, whose caddies are, respectively, their father and older sister.
When Choi was asked whether she could blame any bad shots on her caddie’s calculations, she smiled and said, “Sometimes.”
She added: “My father missed a couple of shots today, but it happens because the wind is every time switching.”