Former world No 1 Jin Young Ko leads the Cognizant Founders Cup by three shots after a superb opening 63 in New Jersey, while fellow South Korean Sung Kang eagled the last in his 61 as he went two clear at the Shriners Children’s Open.
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 08/10/21 11:29am
Jin Young Ko and Sung Kang flew the flag for South Korea as they enjoyed first-round leads on the LPGA and PGA Tour on Thursday.
Ko’s bid to reclaim her world No 1 ranking from Nelly Korda got off to the ideal start as she fired an eight-under 63 to claim a three-shot lead over Sandra Gal at the Cognizant Founders Cup, although Korda was just one further back in New Jersey.
Kang, meanwhile, capped a 10-under 61 with an outstanding eagle on his final hole which propelled him into the outright lead at the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas, two ahead of compatriot Sungjae Im.
Ko is the defending champion at the Founders Cup, albeit it two-and-a-half years after holding off the Korda sisters to collect her third LPGA Tour title in March 2019, and she needed just 25 putts in her nine-birdie opening round at Mountain Ridge Country Club.
The 26-year-old was motivated by the disappointment of failing to convert a share of the lead heading into the final round of last week’s ShopRite LPGA Classic, where she and Inbee Park were surpassed by a brilliant closing 63 from Solheim Cup star Celine Boutier.
“I had a great round today,” said Ko, whose 92-week reign as world No 1 was ended when Korda won her first major at the Women’s PGA Championship in June.
“I was a little sad last week on Sunday, so I was thinking like keep it all for my putting this week, and I had great putting today. I got nine birdies today and one bogey, but, yeah, still pretty good.”
Get the best prices and book a round at one of 1,700 courses across the UK & Ireland
Gal was also delighted with her performance having been sidelined for much of the last three years after she was diagnosed with Lyme Disease.
The German carded five birdies and went bogey-free on the day, while Korda was joined on four-under by Brooke Henderson, whose group had to run to the final tee to get their rounds finished in fading light following a 90-minute delay to the start of play due to fog.
Georgia Hall led the British challenge despite slipping from four under to two under after an erratic second half of her round, but it was a tough day for Solheim Cup sensation Leona Maguire, who struggled to a 75.
At TPC Summerlin, Kang produced an early contender for shot of the season with a stunning 260-yard seven-wood from a fairway bunker on his final hole, knocking it inside 20 feet and converting the putt for an eagle-three.
“I didn’t hit my drive good and I was in the bunker and then the ball was a little below my feet,” he explained. “But I carry a seven-wood, which is a big advantage, so my caddie told me that was the perfect club. I tried to hit a little bit of draw and hit it clean, landed in a perfect spot and rolled up to about 15 feet.
“Then Matt Kuchar was behind me and chipped really nicely, and I saw the ball trickle a little to the left at the end, so we had some idea that it was going to go a little left at the end.
“So as soon as I putted on the last hole I said it’s got to be coming in probably six feet short of the hole and when I putted six feet short of the hole it was just outside of the right edge and I knew it was going to go, so I walked it in.”
Matthew Wolff, who lost out to Martin Laird in a play-off last year, opened with a confident 64, one better than Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and perennial major runner-up Louis Oosthuizen, while Victor Hovland, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter all made their first starts since the Ryder Cup.
Hovland admitted “I sucked” at Whistling Straits, but he insisted he was not dwelling on Europe’s record 19-9 defeat to Team USA after putting together a solid four-under 67, matching the earlier score of Matt Wallace.
Casey returned a 68, while Poulter was “fuming” despite opening with a 69 in which he played delightfully from tee to green but failed to convert a number of legitimate birdie chances.