MELBOURNE (Reuters) - South Korea’s Lee Il-hee shot a flawless five-under par 68 on Thursday to lead after the first round of the women’s Australian Open, the third event on this year’s LPGA Tour.
Lee almost skipped the tournament at Royal Melbourne because she played so badly in her previous visit to the course three years ago but had no problems on Thursday, picking up five birdies to lead the field by a shot.
Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 69 to lie outright second after mixing seven birdies with three bogeys while New Zealand’s world number one Lydia Ko fired a 70 to end the day tied for third with Canada’s Alena Sharp and South Korean Min Seo-kwak.
The highlight of the 17-year-old Ko’s opening round was an eagle on the par-five 14th hole when she drained a 36-foot putt to make amends for her only bogey of the day on the 13th.
“It’s a tough course and I tried to stay patient,” Ko told reporters. “I didn’t hole that many putts but I didn’t make that many mistakes with it either, so that’s important.”
Less than three weeks ago, Ko became the youngest golfer to hold top spot in the world rankings when she tied for second place at the LPGA’s season-opening event in Florida.
Tiger Woods had previously held the record when he reached number one in 1997 at 21, while Shin Ji-yai held the women’s record after reaching top spot in 2010 aged 22.
Reporting by Julian Linden in Singapore; editing by Sudipto Ganguly