Ha Na Jang wasn’t sure she was even going to be able to play Thursday, much less storm into the lead with an afternoon 5-under 66. Her back was so tight when she headed to the driving range to warm up that she couldn’t hit any balls in advance of her tee time and she just focused on trying to get it well enough to be able to play. Whatever she did worked because she showed no signs that the back was bothering her during a 66 that saw her take the lead Thursday at the Marathon Classic Presented by Owens Corning and O-I.
It’s particularly amazing considering her back was giving her enough difficulty that she was hitting two full clubs more into greens than she normally would have for the bulk of her round Thursday.
It admittedly took her a bit of time to get going though. She birdied the third hole but reeled off eight pars on the front nine on a 1-under loop that she said was more of a struggle than the score would suggest. But whether her back loosened up or she just figured out how to adjust, she turned it on on the back nine with five birdies and a bogey in a back nine 4-under-par 33 that saw her take the first round lead with a birdie at the last.
“Today my back really bad,” Jang said. “But just one thing is I wanted -- I'm thinking fairway, in the fairway and the greens, because really narrow the fairway and very small the greens. So just one thinking - just fairway and the green, yeah.”
For much of the afternoon wave it looked like it would be Sarah Kemp’s lead to take into Friday’s second round. But Kemp, who birdied five of her first 10 holes, saved her lone bogey of the day for the last, leaving Jang with a solo one-shot lead over her, Nannette Hill, Lee-Anne Pace, and Wei-Ling Hsu.
“It was, yeah, disappointing finish with a bogey, but if someone said, Will you take 4‑under at the beginning of the day I would've said yes,” Kemp said. “I played really well my front nine, which was the back nine. Yeah, I was not as good the front nine which was my last nine, but, no, I'm happy. I'll take it.”
Defending champion Lydia Ko shot an even-par 71 Thursday. World No. 1 Inbee Park is four shots back of the lead after a 1-under-par 70.