HONOLULU (AP) — Natthakritta Vongtaveelap eagled the par-5 fifth and closed with a chip-in birdie in fading light on the par-3 ninth for a 6-under 66 and a share of the first-round lead Wednesday in the LPGA Tour’s LOTTE Championship.
“Very surprised. Excited,” the 20-year-old Thai player said about the closing chip at sunset.
She had a bogey-free round at windy Hoakalei Country Club to join fellow afternoon starter Frida Kinhult atop the leaderboard.
“I play knock-down today many shots so the wind cannot make movement for my ball,” Vongtaveelap said.
Vongtaveelap is making her second LPGA Tour start. In February, she won her first two events as pro on the Thai LPGA Tour, then was second behind Lilia Vu in the LPGA Thailand in her debut on the big tour.
“I feel great, great for myself,” Vongtaveelap said. “Hope next three days I will play same as today.”
Kinhult finished with a bogey on No. 9, the 23-year-old Swede’s lone blemish in the difficult conditions.
“Just tried to stay patient out there shot by shot for real in this wind,” Kinhult said. “A lot of the math in my head, so probably going to fall asleep pretty good tonight. Super happy with the start and pumped for the rest of the week.”
The former Florida State player was 5 under on a seven-hole stretch from No. 18 to No. 6, with three of the five birdies coming on par 5s.
“It was very solid. Nothing crazy really happened,” Kinhult said. “Just throughout the day, tried to hit some fairways, and then I think I hit most greens, which is helpful in this wind.
Defending champion Hyo Joo Kim was at 68 with fellow morning starters Nasa Hataoka and Bailey Tardy and afternoon player Yu Jin Sung.
Kim had eight birdies and four bogeys.
“The putter worked really well and that lead to a low score,” Kim said. “Swings were good. I actually made a lot of mistakes, but I had the thought that I should make more birdies to cover for that.”
Hinako Shibuno, the Japanese player who was second last year, was 6 under before hitting into the water on the and making a triple-bogey 7 on the sixth hole. She parred the final three for a 69.
“I had no strategy that much, but I wanted to just be a friend with the wind,” Shibuno said.” I tried.”
Brooke Henderson, at No. 7 the highest-ranked player in the field, opened with a 71. The Canadian is the only multiple winner in tournament history, taking the 2018 and 2019 titles at Ko Olina.
“It’s extremely windy out there, which makes this golf course really challenging,” Henderson said. “So, it was kind of tough to not make bogeys out there. I think the only way to really counter is just to make a bunch of birdies.”
The Chevron Championship, the first major championship of the year for women, is next week in Houston.
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