INCHEON, South Korea (AFP) - Defending champion Suzann Pettersen of Norway put herself in early contention for her second straight United States LPGA victory in South Korea on Friday.
The world No. 2 shot a three-under 69 to open the US$1.9 million (S$2.35 million) LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship on Ocean Course at Sky72 Golf Club in Incheon, west of Seoul.
That put her in a seven-way tie for sixth, two shots off the pace set by four golfers, including former Major champion Anna Nordqvist of Sweden.
At last year's tournament, Pettersen defeated Catriona Matthew in a play-off. She went on to pick up four more US wins and another in Europe, climbing up to No. 2 in the world rankings behind Park In Bee of South Korea.
Pettersen mixed in five birdies with two bogeys on the par-72, 5,819-metre course. Three of her birdies came on par-five holes.
She was joined at 69 by six others, including former world No. 1 Shin Ji Yai of South Korea and fan favourite Michelle Wie of the US.
World No. 1 Park played with Pettersen in the opening round, and shot a 70 to stay within striking distance. She started off with three birdies on the back nine but had back-to-back bogeys on the 12th and 13th. She picked up her final birdie of the day on the par-three 17th.
Katherine Hull-Kirk is among the co-leaders, thanks to seven birdies against two bogeys.
"I had a hot putter on the first nine holes," said Hull-Kirk, who began her round on the back nine. "I had 11 putts the first nine holes. That was really what got my round going."
A little-known Korean tour player Park Ju Young also shot a 67 after notching up six birdies against a single bogey.
The younger sister of the two-time LPGA Tour winner Park Hee Young, she said she received some early tips on how to play the course from her more experienced sibling.
"She told me not to be aggressive on every hole," the younger Park said. "I think it helped me a lot in playing par-threes and par-fives here. It's a great honour to be playing with these LPGA players, and I will try to enjoy myself over the next two rounds."
Lexi Thompson, the winner last week in Malaysia, shot a 70, along with world No. 6 Choi Na Yeon, a two-time champion at this event.