Sarah Jane Smith and Peiyun Chien both returned opening-round 6-under 66s on Thursday to sit atop the leaderboard at the LPGA Tour’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Fla.
Smith and Chien, both looking for their first LPGA victories, share a one-stroke lead over Suzann Pettersen, Karine Icher, Lydia Ko, Azahara Munoz and Sung Hyun Park.
Smith and Chien both returned bogey-free rounds on Thursday, with Smith carding the lowest first round of her career. In the first group off No. 1, the 33-year-old Australian opened with five consecutive pars, but really got her day moving with an eagle at the par-5 sixth.
“I holed some nice putts,” said Smith, whose best career finish is second at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship and the 2016 Citibanamex Lorena Ochoa Invitational. “It was a bit rough in the beginning, but holed some nice putts for par and sort of kept it going, and then made some good birdies coming in.”
For 2017 rookie Chien, it was certainly a round to remember. The 27-year-old from Chinese Taipei returned the second-lowest round of her LPGA career, behind only a opening-round 64 at the 2017 Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I. That week, she went on to tie for third and earn her only career top-10 finish on the LPGA Tour.
“Just need to more believe myself,” said Chien. “I change a little (my) backswing, so feel a little bit more solid.”
QUOTABLE FROM THE TOP FIVE IN THE RACE TO THE CME GLOBE
“Coming into the day I was playing aggressively, you know, hitting drivers and a lot of the 3-woods out there. I play this golf course pretty aggressively, so I didn’t have a different game plan. Yeah, getting the first round under my belt with a 1-under par, I’m definitely going to play aggressive going into tomorrow.”
Lexi Thompson, with a first-round 1-under 71
“Today is the second day I played the course. First day was for the pro-am. I think the course suits my game really well. It feels good. There is a little bit of a bounce on the greens, but I think I can play well in the next rounds.”
Sung Hyun Park, with a first-round 5-under 67
“You have to prepare like you are going to win the tournament. That’s what I always do before the tournament. Then, I mean, my preparation is good enough to win the tournament. I think everything depends on how you really play on the course.”
Shanshan Feng, with a first-round 2-under 70
“I cannot project the result after this week, but at least I really want to do my best. Like that’s what I did for this whole season; I just don’t want to give up. I knew my condition wasn’t really great on Tuesday, but I really wanted to do my best and I really wanted to see my whole team is kind of working on to make my shoulder better.”
So Yeon Ryu, with a first-round even-par 72
“I leaderboard watch all the time if I’m in contention or not, so I was always looking at it throughout the day. It’s just the first round. There are three days left. If I can make a few more putts, few more birdies, I think good things will come my way.”
Brooke Henderson, with a first-round 2-under 70
SMITH SLOWING DOWN FOR A GOOD REASON
It’s been an up-and-down season for Australian Sarah Jane Smith. The 11-year LPGA Tour veteran has only missed four cuts, but has also only found the top 10 twice, in her home country in February and two weeks ago in Japan. However, her last three events did bring three top-15 finishes, and Smith says she has finally found something in her swing that clicked. All she had to do? Slow down.
“I’ve been working on a little bit more tempo in my swing. I can get really fast out there,” said Smith, who has worked with coach Sean Foley for the last two years. “I sort of made a conscious effort a few weeks ago to sort of do it on the golf course, and it’s made a huge difference.
“I’m obviously a slow learner,” she added with a laugh. “Slowing down has made everything else easier.”
MUNOZ HOPING TO END ON A HIGH NOTE
The 2017 LPGA season has not been one to remember for Azahara Muñoz. The Spanish native only missed five cuts, but could only muster a season-best finish of T15 at the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim. She even missed the Solheim Cup, the first time she has not represented Europe since the 2009 match.
Muñoz did win her home country’s national championship, the Ladies European Tour’s Andalucia Costa Del Sol Open De España Femenino, for the second consecutive year. She pointed to that win in late September as a bright spot, and she certainly enjoyed the sight of her name in a tie for second on the leaderboard after Thursday’s first round.
“Obviously the year hasn’t gone quite as well as I wanted it,” said Muñoz, who won the 2012 Sybase Match Play Championship for her only career LPGA victory. “Winning in Spain was pretty important to me. I know it’s not an LPGA event, but it was my hometown and it meant a lot. That changed things a little bit. I want to finish strong and finish the year on a good note because it hasn’t been quite what I would have liked.”
RACE TO THE CME GLOBE STANDINGS
The top 12 players in the Race to the CME Globe standings heading into this week’s CME Group Tour Championship are eligible to win the $1 million bonus. After her first-round 67, Sung Hyun Park has pulled into first place, ahead of Lexi Thompson.
|Sung Hyun Park||2nd||1st|
|So Yeon Ryu||4th||5th|
|In Gee Chun||6th||8th|
ROLEX PLAYER OF THE YEAR STANDINGS
Sung Hyun Park sits in a tie for third with four other players after the first round of the CME Group Tour Championship. So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Lexi Thompson all are positioned outside the top 10 (Ryu – T45; Feng – T18; Thompson – T36). If the award was handed out today, Park would walk away the winner by four points. Ryu, Feng and Thompson would earn no further points.
|Player||Current Points||Projected Points|
|So Yeon Ryu||162||162|
|Sung Hyun Park||157||166|
VARE TROPHY STANDINGS
After the first round, Lexi Thompson remains in the lead for low scoring average ahead of Sung Hyun Park by 0.061. Park’s round of 67 today closed the gap by 0.051. Thompson entered the week ahead of Park by 0.112.
|Player||Entering This Week||After First Round||Difference|
|Sung Hyun Park||69.259||69.232||0.061|
|In Gee Chun||69.269||69.316||0.145|