NAPLES, Florida — Lydia Ko began her quest for the biggest prize in women’s golf history by hitting a tree and bogeying a par 5. The rest of Thursday’s day in the CME Group Tour Championship couldn’t have gone better .
Ko responded with eight birdies, including four in a row late in the round at Tiburon Golf Club, which sent her 7 under 65 and a one-stroke lead in the season finale of the Tour de France. the LPGA.
So much is at stake this week, even beyond the $2 million prize to the winner.
Ko is one point ahead in the hunt for LPGA Tour Player of the Year. She would appear to be a lock to win the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. Both are worth a point in his bid to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
“If I hold the trophy, whether I hold all the trophies or no trophies… I just want to have a good week,” Ko said. “These opportunities don’t come around very often. I want to try and grab them when they come .”
All is well ahead of Ko, who picked up two wins in what she considers her most consistent year on the LPGA Tour.
And right behind are many challengers.
Danielle Kang and Pajaree Anannarukarn from Thailand were 66 years old, Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland and Hyo Joo Kim from South Korea were at 67 and the group at 68 included Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson.
Korda missed four months earlier this year due to surgery for a blood clot in her left arm. She’s finally back in full swing, and her victory last week on the coast at Pelican Golf Club saw her return to No. 1 in the Women’s World Rankings.
Henderson had to forfeit last week due to back pain, and the Canadian wasn’t even sure she’d be able to play. But she made an adjustment in her swing, and it allowed her to round Tiburon with a respectable 68.
Henderson has an outside shot at Player of the Year, although she should win and have Ko and Minjee Lee finish third or worse.
Lee, who already set an LPGA Tour record with $3.7 million in earnings this season, started with a 71. Atthaya Thitikul from Thailand, the 19-year-old who reached world No. 1 until Korda took him over, had a 73.
Ko could only laugh at his tournament start by hitting a tree.
“It’s almost like I had two tee shots,” she said. “Even though I bogeyed a par 5, I knew a lot of the holes were going to play downwind. I tried not to get too frustrated. The first four holes into the wind are a beast. I knew if I could hold on and be patient, there would be plenty of opportunity.
“I was able to catch a lot on the back nine.”
And it started with a par. She was quick on a chip just off the 13th green and watched him run about 12 feet from the hole. Ko made the par putt, and she was off running, making four straight birdies. It helped that two were par 5s.
Korda gave up an easy birdie chance on the par-5 17th when she drove it so long she had just 159 yards left. But she came in very short and failed to get up and down. It was the product of what she called being fooled too often in the end.
Korda had a chance at all awards last year until Jin Young Ko beat her, making it the third straight year the South Korean star has won at Tiburon.
Doing four in a row will be difficult. Jin Young Ko opened with a 72 as she continues to deal with an ailing left wrist.