Lydia Ko had the flatstick working on Thursday at TPC Kuala Lumpur. She turned in a bogey-free 7-under, 64 to grab the opening round lead at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia. Second-year member Su Oh, who made nine birdies, is in second at 6-under, 65.
"It's always nice to make birdies on par 3's," said Ko, who made birdies on three par-3 holes. "Birdies on any holes, you take it. I feel like 17 is kind of a lucky one. It was a really solid day for me, so I'll take my 64."
Defending champion Shanshan Feng is one of three players in a share of third at 5-under, 66. Last week’s winner Eun-Hee Ji and rookie Madelene Sagstrom also posted 66’s.
“It would be great if I can do it,” said Feng about winning another title in Malaysia. “I'm really enjoying coming back every year. We always love the people here. I feel really relaxed.”
Ko, who is coming off a solo second at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship, is in search of her first win of the season. She does have three top 10 finishes since September and has ten overall this year.
Ko, 20, caught fire towards the end of her front nine. She made a birdie on six, a 15-foot birdie on seven, a 12-foot birdie on eight and also made birdie on 11.
"I was making putts today," said Ko, who fired her best opening-round score of the year. "If you're not striking the ball very well, but you're able to make putts when you get birdie opportunities or to make those crucial par putts, those are going to be the three-or four-shot swings. To me, it's really about confidence and momentum, where if I see some going in the right direction."
The birdie train continued rolling with red numbers on 15 and 17 as she moved into sole possession of the lead. Ko is 14-under in her last two rounds on Tour. She also posted a 7-under in the final-round in Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Oh got off to an electrifying start and had two separate stretches of three straight birdies to stand in second.
“I didn't have very high expectations,” said Oh. “I just went out there and played like cliché one shot at a time, kind of thing. I was off really early, and it was really dark when I got here. So, I wasn't sure if I could get a full warm up in, and just got enough time to have a full warm up. Just happy to get done before the storm hits.”
Oh, 21, started her day on the back nine with a par on 10 and then reeled off three straight birdies to ignite her round. Oh closed her outward nine with back-to-back birdies to turn in 31. Following a double-bogey on hole one, Oh again tallied three straight birdies including a 25-footer on hole 11.
“My driving hasn’t been that great this year,” admitted Oh in reference to the double on 10. “Holes two-three-four definitely helped. It worked out really nicely.”
Oh had a slight hiccup on the par-5 6th to drop a shot, but made up for it with a 10-foot birdie putt on eight, her 17th hole of the day. She narrowly missed a 15-footer on her final hole. She flashed a stunning smile as she cleaned up a par on the ninth to end her round.
Oh, No. 68 in the world, will aim for her first career win this weekend. She has four top 10 finishes in two seasons on the LPGA. Oh’s career best result is a solo second at the 2016 Kingsmill Championship.
Oh finished with a colorful scorecard. She made only six pars on the day.
Since Oh was one of the first players off in round one, she had plenty on the docket for the rest of the day.
“That mall right next to the hotel is pretty nice,” said Oh. “My dad's here. It's his last week on the road with me, so we might get a foot massage and then probably hit Din Tai Fung for dinner. Got a lot planned.”
Eun-Hee Ji, a 3-time LPGA Tour winner, made four straight birdies near the start of her round and finished with seven birdies. Ji is 22-under in her last five rounds on the LPGA. Meanwhile, Madelene Sagstrom, made a 10-foot par putt on 18 to turn in a bogey-free 5-under, 66. The 2016 Symetra Tour Player of the Year has four top 10 finishes this season.
“This is my last tournament in Asia before the Tour final,” said Sagstrom. “I'm just going to try to do everything to finish strong and play my game all week. I know I'm hitting the ball really well, especially the irons right now. I’m just going to go out and give it my best and finish the season strong.”
Suzann Pettersen, who finished runner-up in Malaysia last year, turned in a bogey-free 4-under, 67 and is in a tie for sixth.
“I keep giving myself chances,” said Pettersen, a 15-time winner on the LPGA. “I always enjoy coming to Asia. I would love to win everywhere I go and Malaysia is one of the places I haven’t won.
The top five on the leaderboard after day one are from five different countries: New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Republic of Korea and China.