LPGA’s Asian series kicks off

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LPGA’s Asian series kicks off


Park Sung-hyun reads the line of her putt during the first round of the KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf Club, Ocean Course, in Incheon on Thursday. [YONHAP]

The Asian series of the LPGA Tour has finally begun at the KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf Club Ocean Course in Incheon on Thursday.

Though it is not a major tournament, the field of 78 players shows great competitiveness, with top ranked golfers from both the LPGA Tour and the KLPGA Tour.

The top three ranked golfers in the Rolex Women’s World Ranking - Ryu So-yeon, Park Sung-hyun and Lexi Thompson of the United States - got off to a fierce competition in the first round of the tournament.

For Park and Thompson, getting paired together is not much of a surprise, as they were paired at the event in 2015 in the final round. At the time, Park started the final round as a leader, but finished runner-up by coming up one shot shy of Thompson.

Though Park wasn’t able to win the tournament in 2015, she set a course record with a round of 62 in the first round. This season, the two are up for another competition for the Vare Trophy, awarded to a player with the lowest scoring average for the season.

Currently, Thompson leads in the category at 69.015, while Park is closely behind at 69.092. Park has already had great success on the LPGA Tour, having secured the rookie of the year award and being the current money leader, Park hopes for even greater success this season with a Vare Trophy, as she will be the first rookie in 39 years, since Nancy Lopez, to sweep the awards.

The two are the longer hitters on the LPGA Tour, Thompson ranked third hitting 274.59 yards on average and Park ranked ninth hitting 270.89 yards on average.

Ryu, the current No. 1 ranked female golfer, is having the best season of her career by leading the LPGA Tour’s player of the year race, and recently won the Annika Major Award.

Though Ryu is not considered a long hitter on the Tour, she shows accuracy in iron shots. That said, about 400 galleries followed the three throughout the first round.

“I still want to win the KEB Hana Bank Championship the most since it’s hosted in Korea,” Ryu said. “Since the 2015 High1 Resort Ladies Open, I haven’t won a tournament in Korea. That said, I want to win in front of the fans once again.”

Aside from the top golfers, Alison Lee of the United States, who lost in the first playoff hole to Carlotta Ciganda at the last year’s KEB Hana Bank Championship, shot two over par to be tied at 56th.

Though Lee had a great first two seasons on the LPGA Tour, recording six top-ten finishes in 2015 and four top-ten finishes last season, she has been struggling this season, missing seven cuts.

She also failed to earn a full seed to compete in the next four of LPGA Tour’s tournaments played in Asia, as she failed to be ranked inside the top 88 in this season’s money ranking. But Lee has to move up to the top 60 after this weekend to play in the remaining tournaments in Asia.

Upon completion of the first round, Park is tied for the lead with Lee Min-jee of Australia and Kim Min-sun of Korea at six under par. Ryu shot an even par in the first round to be tied at 40th after the first round and Thompson shot a three under par to be tied at 13th.

“I got off to a great start,” Park said after the first round. “And I hope to finish well. My putting was better than I thought. I made quite a number of mid-length putts. But there were few where I missed reading the line. So I need to work on reading the line better.”

Park said playing with Ryu and Thompson has rather helped her focus solely in her round, as she’s been paired with the two before. Park will tee off at 10:35 a.m. today along with the leaders Kim Min-sun and Lee Min-jee.

BY KIM DU-YONG, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@Joongang.co.kr]
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