Kang grabs two-shot lead at LPGA Tournament of Champions


Miami (AFP)

American Danielle Kang birdied six of the first 10 holes on her way to an eight-under par 63 opening round to seize a two-stroke lead Thursday at the season-opening LPGA Tournament of Champions.

Kang, whose parents are from South Korea, qualified for the select 26-player field by winning the 2018 and 2019 LPGA Shanghai titles. Her only other LPGA victory came in a major at the 2017 Women's PGA Championship.

With nine birdies in all at against a lone bogey at Four Seasons in Orlando, Kang opened a gap over South Korea's Park In-bee, Mexico's Gaby Lopez and American Angela Stanford, who shared second on 65 with bogey-free first rounds.

"I had a lot of fun today," Kang said. "Hit pretty good drives out there. My wedges were good. I putted well. Saved the shots I needed to save. I had a good first round.

"Staying in the moment and staying in every single shot really mattered a lot for me today."

Kang opened with a birdie, added back-to-back birdies at the fourth at par-3 fifth, then followed with more at the par-5 seventh, par-3 ninth and par-5 10th.

She birdied the par-3 14th before taking her lone bogey at 15, then answered with birdies at 16 and the par-5 17th before a closing par.

"This golf course, you can capitalize on a lot on the wedge game, the short game," Kang said. "Just chugging away and hitting good shots. You've just got to be aggressive."

Kang spent little time off during the past two months when the LPGA was idle.

"I had two days off maybe," she said. "I had outings and golf in Hawaii and Palm Springs. It's kind of a rollover season, is how I look at it. It has been a good start."

Defending Olympic champion Park is trying to rise in the rankings by June in order to qualify for South Korea's 2020 Tokyo Olympic team and have a chance to defend the gold medal she captured in Rio.

Japan's Nasa Hataoka, South Korean Kim Sei-young, France's Celine Boutier and Americans Lexi Thompson and Marina Alex shared fifth on 66 with Canada's Brooke Henderson another stroke adrift.