SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. Women’s Open champion Park Sung-hyun closed with a pair of birdies to join Minjee Lee and Kim Min-sun at the top of the leaderboard on six-under par after the first round of the LPGA’s $2 million KEB Hana Bank Championship in Incheon on Thursday.
World number two Park, playing in the marquee group alongside top-ranked South Korean compatriot Ryu So-yeon and number three Lexi Thompson, carded six birdies in a bogey-free round at the SKY72 Golf and Resort, west of Seoul.
American Thompson ended the day three strokes back after a 69 while world number one Ryu carded an even-par 72. Australia’s Lee, meanwhile, offset two bogeys with eight birdies, while Korean Kim finished her round with five straight birdies.
Park has enjoyed an incredible rookie season in the United States and leads Ryu and Thompson on the official money list with almost $2 million from 18 events.
Playing in the same group as her closest rivals did not faze her in the slightest on Thursday, nor did the huge galleries following the trio despite the chilly weather.
“It is true that this morning was really cold. At one point it did cross my mind that there may not be many spectators today. I was quite surprised when I reached the first hole and saw the size of the crowd,” she said.
“I can’t speak for the other players from abroad, but I’ve never felt that it’s uncomfortable to have a larger crowd. I think the larger the cheering is more fun for me, so I had a really good time out there today.”
Spaniard Carlota Ciganda, who beat Alison Lee in a sudden death playoff to win the event last year, finished on even par with American Lee coming in at two-over par.
Reporting by Peter Rutherford; Editing by John O'Brien