Green putts her way to the lead at Women’s PGA

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Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim, of South Korea, reacts after making a birdie putt on the ninth green during the first round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship golf tournament, Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Chaska, Minn. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — Hannah Green of Australia got just about everything wrong in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship except what mattered: Her score.

Green didn’t have wet weather gear when she teed off Thursday at Hazeltine as it started to rain — she doesn’t like rain pants, anyway, because they make too much noise. On a long, tough course at Hazeltine National, she missed nine greens and never had a tap-in for par.

No matter. She took 23 putts, none on the par-5 seventh when she holed a bunker shot, and she kept bogeys off her card for a 4-under 68 for a one-shot lead over Hyo Joo Kim and Mel Reid.

“I guess I just had a lot of luck today with putts going in and getting good bounces,” Green said.

Kim set small goals to help her on a big course. She wanted to hit 12 greens and take no more than 30 putts, and she accomplished both in her 69. Reid played in one of the final groups and finished strong, hitting just inside the hazard right of the 16th fairway, taking her shot over a tree and grandstand and onto the green.

Hazeltine was as tough as advertised, playing at 6,831 yards — just 244 yards short of the Pebble Beach scorecard last week at the U.S. Open.

It was long enough that Ariya Jutanugarn not only carried a driver for the first time all year, she hit it — twice.

“Made bogey” she said with a laugh after her 70.

And it was tough enough — especially with a mixture of rain, wind, a drop in temperatures, sunshine and more rain — that only 16 players broke par and 20 players shot 80 or high. One of them was Michelle Wie, who returned from two months off with an injured right wrist and matched her highest score as a pro with an 84. She was happy to be playing golf again, which made her score feel even worse.

“I’m not entirely sure how much left I have in me,” Wie said as she began to cry. “I love being out here.”

Green had everything going her way except for being prepared for the elements. She opened with a 15-foot par putt. She followed with a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 11th, which played so long in these conditions — 557 yards — that she had 7-iron for her third shot. Most of the pars she saved were in the 6-foot range.

“I don’t really think I ever had a tap-in putt for my par putts when I missed the green,” she said. “I made all of them. Very happy with that.”

She also had her own cheering section.

Karrie Webb, Australia’s most prolific major champion, has been offering scholarships to two amateurs for the last several years. They are with Webb this week, and followed Green along. They’re all staying in the same house, cooking and working on a 2,000-piece puzzle they wanted to finish in time for their barbecue Saturday.

This is meaningful to Green because she was a Karrie Webb scholarship winner four years ago, coming over to America for the U.S. Women’s Open — the first golf tournament she saw as a spectator. She even toured the media center, and there she was Thursday evening answering questions about her round.

“That was a real eye-opener for me, and I guess it’s pretty cool now to be doing that today,” Green said.

The rain wasn’t too much of a burden. A Hazeltine staff member brought out extra towels. Her boyfriend ran back to the house to get a heavier jacket to cope with the chill. She might even buy rain pants.

Jutanugarn is so powerful off the tee that she typically doesn’t carry a driver. The Thai is just as effective with a 3-wood or a 2-iron.

Hazeltine made her change.

“I hit my driver twice today — pretty good,” Jutanugarn said.

Her bogey was on the par-5 11th hole. She also hit her driver on the par-5 15th into the right rough, leaving her 260 yards away. She laid up and made birdie the conventional way, and relied on a 3-wood and a 4-iron to set up birdie on the 528-yard seventh hole with water guarding the front of the green.

Defending champion Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim also were in the group at 70 with Jutanugarn. The group at 71 included major champions So Yeon Ryu and Lydia Ko.

Most of the early starters were finishing when a blue sky and moderate breeze gave way to wind and rain.

“I was wearing my sunglasses and I wondered if it was the sunglasses that were dark,” Ko said. “No, it’s dark. The wind was really blowing and at one point, when you’re hitting straight into the wind, I think I hit one of my drives 200 yards because I didn’t hit it very well and it went straight up.”

On the 382-yard sixth hole, with the wind at her back, she hit driver and a sand wedge into the green to set up her final birdie.

“I was hitting 7-iron yesterday,” she said.

It was like that for Green all day. Hardly any of the clubs she hit it practice rounds were same for the opening round. The putter was working at most any length.

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