GREENSBORO, Ga. — Danielle Kang leads the Race to CME Globe and, at No. 5 in the world, is the top-ranked player in the LPGA Drive On Championship-Lake Reynolds Oconee. She showed why Thursday.
Kang shot a 7-under 65 for a share of the first-round lead with Jennifer Song.
“I think I know the golf course a little bit better,” Kang said. “I’ve only played it once technically so it’s still very new, but I just tried to work on some pace drills on the greens and figure out the type of grass around here. I feel good about today.”
The event is the second tournament added to the schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down women’s golf for five months. The other “Drive On” tournament was in Toledo, Ohio, in late July and marked the return. Kang won that event at Inverness and followed with a victory the next week in the LPGA Marathon Classic in Sylvania, Ohio. She has five LPGA Tour victories after winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2010 and 2011.
“I think it’s just really exciting that the LPGA Drive On could happen during this break,” Kang said. “It’s been cool.”
Kang birdied three of the four par-5 holes in the bogey-free afternoon round on the Great Waters Course.
“To be honest, I made some putts today, which made me really happy,” Kang said.
Song closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th, her fifth in the final seven holes. The former University of Southern California player is winless on the LPGA Tour. In 2009, she swept the U.S. Women’s Amateur and Public Links.
“This course is really tough and, in the afternoon, the greens got really crusty, so there was a lot of calculation,” Song said. “The wind picked up a little bit, so it was kind of confusing, but I managed it pretty well. I’m really happy about 7-under par today. I didn’t think that was possible to shoot that score out there, but I had a great round.”
She played alongside Juli Inkster, the 60-year-old Hall of Famer who had a 77 in her third start of the year.
Ally McDonald made it three U.S. players at the top, shooting a bogey-free 66.
“Just playing really consistently. Ball-striking was really good,” McDonald said. “Managed to roll some putts in.”
Ariya Jutanugarn bogeyed the 18th in a 67. The 24-year-old Thai star won the last of her 10 LPGA Tour titles in the 2018 Ladies Scottish Open.
“Didn’t expect to shoot it low at all, because like soon as I saw the course, I feel like this course going to be tough,” Jutanugarn said. “We play pretty long and the green is pretty tough.”
American Lindsey Weaver also shot 67.
Hamilton’s Alena Sharp opened with a 2-under 70, while Calgary’s Jaclyn Lee fired an 8-over 80.
Pernilla Lindberg was at 68 with Bianca Pagdanganan and Marissa Steen. Mel Reid, the winner three weeks ago in New Jersey for her first LPGA Tour title, followed at 69. She played in a group with Kang and Stacy Lewis (70).
Minjee Lee, the Australian ranked No. 9 in the world, overcame a bad start to shoot 70. Lee bogeyed the first two holes, the second a par 5, and dropped another stroke on the par-5 sixth to fall to 3 over. She chipped in for birdie on the par-4 seventh, added another on the par-4 ninth and closed with two birdies in a back-nine 33.
“I knew I had quite a few opportunities to get it back on the back nine and even the end of the front nine,” Lee said. “I just pretty much tried my best, like I always do. Just tried not to give up and just try to making as many birdies as I could.”
Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko shot 71s, playing together in the morning. Thompson, at No. 10 the only other top-10 player in the field, birdied four of the last five, but also had a double bogey and three bogeys. Ko followed a triple bogey on the par-3 17th with a birdie on the 18th.
Jessica Korda had three bogeys in a 74.
The Associated Press