When 18-time LPGA Tour winner Lydia Ko bogeyed the par-5 first hole, she didn’t know how Thursday at the CME Group Tour Championship was going to turn out. But in true Lydia Ko fashion, she found some magic at Tiburon Golf Club, birdieing 8 of her next 14 holes to post a 7-under 65 and take the early lead in the year’s final event. The 65 is Ko’s lowest first-round score in the CME Group Tour Championship and ties her second-lowest opening round of the season. It’s just the third time this year that she’s recorded a first-round score of 65 or better – she last opened with a 65 at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open where she ultimately finished in a tie for fifth – and Ko was proud of her ability to bounce back after that bogey on the first, something that other players may have considered a bad omen.
“Not the start that I had envisioned going to sleep yesterday, but I knew that there was plenty of golf to be played,” Ko said. “No matter what circumstances, I think with the wind being up today, it was going to be a tough stretch of holes to start. So I wanted to not get too caught up with how I started and stay patient out there. I think that’s going to be a big key this week. It’s 72 holes. The LPGA’s top 60 players are here this week, so you know there’s going to be so much good golf. You’re just trying to play as good golf as the others.”
Ko won the CME Group Tour Championship back in 2014 when she defeated Carlota Ciganda and Julieta Granada in a playoff with a par on the fourth extra hole. It’s been a long nine years since that victory and Ko has evolved both on and off the golf course. But the same competitiveness remains, and with Rolex Player of the Year honors, Vare Trophy and a $2 million winner’s check on the line, you can bet Ko will continue to attack Tiburon Golf Club and give it her all over the next 54 holes.
“I think when you come to a golf course where you’ve played for quite a bit, you are able to gauge that you’re going to have some of those good days and bad days, but I’m hoping to kind of bring it all together,” said Ko. “The last time I won here was in 2014, nine years ago, and a lot of things have happened since then. I think the level of play has kept getting better and better in my time on Tour. So I know that if I did exactly the same thing, I may not be the one holding the trophy in the present. So I’m just trying to play the best golf I can. I think that’s all I can do. I just want to focus on me and just play without any regrets.”
Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn and major champion Danielle Kang are in a tie for second after carding a matching 6-under 66s. Kang was bogey-free on day one at Tiburon, hitting 14 of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens, and the 66 is now her lowest first-round score in the CME Group Tour Championship. As she looks ahead to the next three rounds, Kang will continue to focus on the swing changes she’s been working on with longtime coach Butch Harmon, tweaks that have made a world of difference for the six-time LPGA Tour winner since her return to competitive golf in August after undergoing treatment for a tumor on her spine.
“I’ve been working on a lot of different mechanics with Butch and I know he’s simplified a lot of things.
I have a bunch of notes written on my glove because I can’t remember the basics of it, but when I do it correctly, I miss it in the right places,” said Kang. “I’m having more opportunities. I know it’s just Thursday, but I’m really happy that I put a really good round together today. So taking it day by day.”
Anannarukarn became a Rolex First-Time Winner at last year’s ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland when she defeated Emma Talley in a playoff. Though she said that Thursday’s blustery conditions were certainly challenging, playing in the wind helps her to focus harder. “Not going to lie, but I find it a little challenging whenever you play in the wind, windy conditions,” said Anannarukarn. “I feel like what I try to do just to try to stay focused on every single shot that I can. Especially when it’s strong wind or gust wind. Just really try to stay focused.”
Two players sit in a tie for fourth at -5; Rolex First-Time Winner Gemma Dryburgh and 2022 LOTTE Championship presented by Hoakalei winner Hyo Joo Kim, who is playing for the first time in the United States since the Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G in September. Seven players are tied at -4, most notably Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 1 Nelly Korda, 2021 AIG Women’s Open winner Anna Nordqvist and 2022 Amundi Evian champion Brooke Henderson. Two-time defending champion Jin Young Ko opened with an even-par 72 and currently sits in a tie for 35th.