Chella Choi drives her way to lead at Manulife

TORONTO • The conditions were blustery. But world No. 37 Chella Choi mastered them superbly.

The South Korean fired a six-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Manulife LPGA Classic on Thursday.

She reeled off seven birdies - and had only one bogey - to tame the demanding Whistle Bear Golf Club layout at Cambridge, Ontario.

Said the 26-year-old, who tied for seventh at the Canadian Pacific Women's Open in Calgary last weekend: "A lot of wind today, but my game was good and driving was good, so I made a lot of birdies.

"I worked really hard the last three weeks. I want to hit straight and strong on my drive all four days, so I focused on just my driving for four days. So that's why my driving is better, so the game is easier than before."

She benefited from a dramatic late stumble by world No. 232 Belen Mozo. The Spaniard had been a stroke clear with one hole left but she triple-bogeyed the par-four 18th hole to card a 68.

American Brittany Lang, who landed her first Major title in a play-off for the US Women's Open in July, carded a 67.

She ended the day level with South Korea's Chun In Gee, Spaniard Azahara Munoz and Swede Dani Holmqvist.

Top-ranked New Zealander Lydia Ko, second-ranked Thai Ariya Jutanugarn and the local favourite, world No. 3 Brooke Henderson - all opened with 70s.

Henderson, already a three-time LPGA winner at the age of 18, said the gusty conditions had presented a stiff challenge.

"The wind really picked up on the back nine, it was kind of difficult," the Canadian said.

"And you could see all three of us not really playing exactly the way we wanted, just because of the wind and the conditions.

"But I finished at two under... I'm happy.

"I'm just excited to tee it up tomorrow when conditions will be a little bit softer and not as much wind."

Defending champion Suzann Pettersen of Norway is in a group of 17 players tied for 17th at 69.

Choi, who has one LPGA title to her name, is aiming to go one better than in 2012 at the Manulife.

That year, she lost in a play-off with Lang and South Koreans Park In Bee and Seo Hee Kyung, when the tournament was held at Grey Silo in Waterloo.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2016, with the headline 'Chella Choi drives her way to lead at Manulife'. Print Edition | Subscribe