Through the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, two LPGA Tour veterans and a 2021 rookie are tied for first in Rogers, Ark. A Lim Kim, Katherine Kirk and Eun-Hee Ji all recorded 8-under 63s to sit atop the leaderboard heading into Saturday. Kim’s 63 is her career-best score, while Ji tied her low mark, which she last recorded in the first round of the Honda LPGA Thailand. Kirk’s round is her lowest since a 62 at the 2018 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.
“Today I think my condition very nice, tee shot, or second or putting, that's good. I tried my best today,” said Kim, who is making her first appearance in Arkansas.
“It was fun. I got off to a good start, and this is the kind of golf course where you just have to keep the pedal down. I was fortunately able to do that and rattled in, what, I think four birdies on each side. I'm really happy with the round,” said Kirk, who went bogey-free and carded a total of eight birdies, the most she’s made in a singular round in 2021. “You have to get off to a good start here. This is more of a sprint than a marathon, so super happy.”
Kirk is playing in her 15th Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, one of few to participate in every edition of the tournament since its inception. This week is her 20th event of 2021, where her season-best result was a tie for 25th at the Pure Silk Championship. After a hole-in-one at last week’s Cambia Portland Classic, the T26 result provided a much-needed “confidence boost” as she prepared for the three-day event.
“It has been a bit of a grind this year, so I have been hitting the ball well but haven't been scoring well. It's been a bit frustrating. As a veteran, I know I've got to remain patient and just keep doing the right things and eventually you'll turn a corner. I felt like last week was a little bit of a turning point,” said Kirk. “I love this golf course, good memories and good vibes and it was just a matter of going out there and having some fun.”
One stroke behind the leaders is Sarah Burnham after she recorded a career-low 7-under 64 thanks to seven birdies on the day to sit in solo fourth. Four players are tied for fifth at -6, including 2021 Tour winners Nasa Hataoka and Pajaree Anannarukarn. Hataoka aced No. 11 from 135 yards, jolting her up the leaderboard, while Anannarukarn rebounded quickly from a triple bogey on No. 6 with a chip-in eagle on No. 7.
“Obviously I didn't hit that [shot on No. 6] good and it just went left of the pin. Yeah, it went in the water and I was just kind of messing around, yeah, it's golf. Like I should have stayed more focused, but kind of missed on that,” said Anannarukarn, whose is playing in her third Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. “Honestly [No. 7] was a great hole. I hit good off the tee and good second shot, and then the third shot was just great. I was trying to get it close but wasn't really intending to make it in. But, yeah, made it.”
Six players sit in a tie for 10th at -5 after first-round 66s, including major champions Ariya Jutanugarn and In Gee Chun. 2013 Walmart NW Arkansas winner Stacy Lewis and University of Arkansas senior Brooke Matthews lead the Razorback contingent in the field in a tie for 16th at -4. Defending champion Austin Ernst is in a tie for 29th at -3.