(Reuters) - South Korean Jang Ha-na, who made LPGA history last week with an albatross one, birdied her last two holes to seize a three-shot lead after the opening round of the Coates Golf Championship in Ocala, Florida, on Wednesday.
Jang, a runner-up in this tournament last year during her rookie season on the U.S. circuit, fired a flawless seven-under-par 65 to set a sizzling pace on a breezy day at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club.
Fellow Koreans Kim Sei-young and Chun In-gee, Canadian Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Candie Kung of Taiwan, American Kim Kaufman and Malaysia’s Kelly Tan opened with 68s while world number one Lydia Ko carded a 69 in her first LPGA event of the year.
“I felt very comfortable today because last year I had a second-place finish here, so I really have more confidence on this golf course,” Jang, 23, told reporters after covering her back nine in three-under 33.
“It’s perfect, no bogeys. I like it. I don’t want to think about that it’s windy and I don’t play for a score. I don’t see the scoreboards. I just keep it simple, just simple thinking.”
Jang has recorded nine top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour, including four runner-up spots in her 2015 rookie campaign, but she has yet to claim a breakthrough win.
But she has made a strong start this season, tying for 11th at last week’s Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic where she aced the eighth in the third round with a three-wood from 218 yards to record the LPGA’s first ever albatross on a par-four hole.
“That was an unbelievable shot, so I got my new dog (a white Pomeranian) and named it ‘Albatross’,” smiled Jang.
New Zealand’s Ko, who at 17 became the youngest golfer to hold top spot in the world rankings after tying for second at last year’s Coates Golf Championship, rebounded from a slow start on Wednesday with four birdies in her last nine holes.
”I was pretty rusty the front nine,“ the 18-year-old told Golf Channel. ”I just wasn’t able to hit many shots close and the ones I did hit good were above the hole.
”It seemed like I was hitting (approach shots) a couple of yards further so on the back nine I tried to control it a little bit and go almost half a club less.
“But it’s a pretty good start to the tournament and the back nine was definitely much better, I gave myself good looks for birdies.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue