It’s a logjam at the top of the leaderboard at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G with six players tied at -7 through 18 holes. Playing partners Megan Khang and Ryann O’Toole started the trend early in the day, firing matching 64s to set the pace for the rest of the field. O’Toole tore up Pinnacle Country Club’s front nine, carding six consecutive birdies from holes 2 through 7 to go out in 30. Although she cooled off on the back, making two birdies and a bogey, it was good enough to give her the fourth lead/co-lead of her LPGA Tour career.
“It was one of those you just start laughing as the fifth one poured in,” said O’Toole, who hit 8 of 13 fairways and 18 of 18 greens on day one. “The sixth one poured in I'm like, okay, I got it. I'm just going to keep going. There are so many opportunities out there today. To be honest, with six birdies in a row I was just taking them as they came. I felt like the putts weren't anything crazy. They were pretty simple. So, I just kept it rolling.”
Khang picked up where O’Toole left off on the back nine, making five birdies in her last seven holes including one on No. 18 to finish Friday with a bang. It’s the first time that she’s held the lead or co-lead after the first round in her LPGA Tour career. It’s also the seventh time she’s shot 64, the last time being the final round of the Dana Open presented by Marathon, where Khang ultimately finished solo second and earned her career-best result on Tour. The 24-year-old has had a stellar 2022 thus far – Khang has five top 10s to her credit – and is looking for that elusive first victory, a win she’s well on her way to after a hot start in Rogers, Ark.
“I think everyone knows that you have 18 holes less than a typical event, and it makes you want to get out there and shoot a good round just to get the jump,” said Khang, whose round ties her lowest first-round score that she last shot at the 2020 ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer. “Having a morning tee time, the greens are going to be a little fresher, and you got to take advantage of that. We're just trying to keep that mentality, stay slightly more aggressive I guess you would say, more than a standard round, but at the end of the day, keeping the same game plan as well.”
Koreans Sei Young Kim and Jeongeun Lee5 are also part of the tie for first at -7. The 64 marks Lee5’s lowest round of the 2022 season, and along with Khang, this is the first time in her 8-year Tour tenure that she holds a share of the 18-hole lead. Kim’s 64 is her second-lowest score this season. She shot a 63 in the final round of the CP Women’s Open in August, and with 36 holes left to play on a soft and gettable Pinnacle Country Club, she’ll look for more of the same as she tries to track down her first win since the 2020 Pelican Women’s Championship.
“Pretty solid round today, especially last four hole I made a birdie,” said Kim. “I got the booster. I'm very happy with the strong finish today. This week we have three days so we need a lot of birdies. And then my strategy keep push myself and then I make a lot of birdie.”
The sixsome is rounded out by 2021 U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica champion Yuka Saso, who went bogey-free on Friday, and Lauren Coughlin, who ended her day making eagle on the last to shoot her career-low round on the LPGA Tour. Coughlin is currently 94th in the Race to the CME Globe and with just six events left on the schedule, she needs two more low ones to maintain her Tour status for next season.
“I was pretty anxious and nervous to start week,” said Coughlin. “Had a really good talk with my husband Monday night. I kind of knew once I got into the week it was more the waiting game, and once the week gets going and I get into the golf, that's my happy place.”
Epson Tour graduate Lilia Vu and 2022 rookie and Monday qualifier Vivian Hou, who made a hole-in-one on Friday on the par-3 11th from 130 yards with an 8-iron, sit in a tie for seventh at -6. Six players round out the top ten at -5, most notably 2018 AIG Women’s Open champion Georgia Hall and LPGA Tour winner Charley Hull. Kenzie Wright, who Monday qualified alongside Hou, also made an ace on day one on No. 11, ultimately carding a +1, 72 in her LPGA Tour debut.