Former No. 1 So Yeon Ryu of South Korea shot a 7-under par round of 65 on Friday to claim a one-shot lead after the first round of the TOTO Japan Classic in Shiga.
Ryu had an unblemished scorecard, making her way around the Seta Golf Club with seven birdies. She was only 2 under through 10 holes before reeling off five birdies over her final eight holes.
That was one better than countrywoman Jiyai Shin, Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and South Korea’s In-Kyung Kim, who each had seven birdies as well. But Hataoka had a lone bogey on No. 9, Shin dropped a shot on No. 11 and Kim was cruising along without a blip until a bogey on the par-3 13th hole.
“I missed only two fairways today,” said Shin, a former No. 1 who has two Women’s British Open titles among 53 international victories but returned to the Japan LPGA Tour several years ago so she can spend more time with friends and family in Japan. “Pretty solid today, and my putter was good.
“I was missing the LPGA, so that’s why I can’t wait this tournament to see all my friends. But before, when I playing on the LPGA, I was busy just to go say hello. But now I’m a different kind of busy. Because they come to say hello, which is good, so I enjoy to play.
Australia’s Minjee Lee and South Korea’s Sei Young Kim are two shots back at 5 under in a tied for fifth.
The stacked leaderboard in the 54-hole event has 14 players within three shots of Ryu’s lead. Eight players in a logjam at 4 under includes Spain’s Carlota Ciganda and Americans Lizette Salas and Angel Yin.
Defending champion Shanshan Feng of China opened with a 3-under 69 and sits in a 13-way tie for 15th place that also includes Canadian Brooke Henderson and Americans Lexi Thompson and Danielle Kang, a winner in China two weeks ago who had to withdraw from last week’s tournament in Taiwan due to illness.
Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, who reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings this week while also clinching Player of the Year honors, is five shots off the lead. She’s tied with American Nelly Korda, coming off her first LPGA Tour victory at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship.
Second-ranked Sung Hyun Park of South Korea is not in the field this week.
Ryu acknowledged that a fast start is critical in a 54-hole event.
“I think for a three-round tournament, you better have a really, really good starting day,” she said. “I guess opened with a really good round, so I’m really happy. Hopefully I can have this round two more days to go.”
NOTES: Feng is the two-time defending champion. ... Jutanugarn overtook Park for the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings on Monday and has clinched the Rolex Player of the Year Award. Jutanugarn, a three-time winner on Tour this year, also leads the CME Race to the Globe (4,002 points), the official money list ($2.46M) and scoring average (69.379). ... Annika Sorenstam won the event five consecutive times and still holds the tournament scoring record (192, 2003).
—Field Level Media