Golf: Confident Lizette Salas leads at Women's PGA Championship

Lizette Salas plays her shot from the eighth tee during the first round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at the Atlanta Athletic Club. PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - Lizette Salas shot a five-under-par 67 on Thursday (June 24) to take sole possession of the lead after the opening round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia.

England's Charley Hull was one shot back at four under.

A seven-way tie for third place at three under includes Austin Ernst, Jessica Korda, Yealimi Noh, South Korea's Lee6 Jeong-eun, Canada's Alena Sharp, China's Lin Xiyu and Sweden's Dani Holmqvist.

Salas, a Los Angeles native who attended the University of Southern California, is trying to end a long victory drought.

The 31-year-old has won just once on the LPGA Tour, running away with a four-stroke victory at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.

"I believe that I could play well in these big events and contend," said Salas, who admitted to going through mental-health issues while playing less golf during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

"I think that's more so the shift in everything, that self-confidence, and I'm not afraid to be out here anymore. It's fun."

Her best result in a Major was her second-place finish in the 2019 Women's British Open, with her best finish at a Women's PGA Championship a tie for fifth place, also in 2019.

Salas had a bogey-free first round, collecting three birdies while playing the back nine first, then adding two more birdies on the front nine.

She said the layout of the Atlanta Athletic Club course suits her game.

"I think right now I'm so visual, and I'm really confident in my pre-shot routine and knowing my ball flight and how to capitalise on these holes," she said.

"So staying committed to each shot, and even when it's not as pure as I want it to (be), I'm missing in the right spots, and I'm able to get up and down for par."

Hull's opening round was far more erratic. She was 1 under after playing the back nine first.

Her second bogey of the day came amid a run of three birdies in four holes on the front nine.

"I can't actually remember much of my round today. I just felt quite focused," Hull said.

"I wasn't even sure of my score until I looked at a leaderboard.

"The key one for me was probably my par save on the last."

Defending Women's PGA champion Kim Sei-young of South Korea struggled in the first round, shooting a four-over 76 that has her tied for 93rd place.

Yuka Saso of the Philippines, who won the U.S. Women's Open earlier this month at San Francisco, shot a 73 and is tied for 39th place.

Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand, who won the first Major of the year at the ANA Inspiration, is in contention with a 70 and in a 13-way tie for 10th place.

Her solid round came after she cracked her driver on the 10th hole and started using her three-wood off the tee.

"I still hit it like 260 (yards) off the tee with my three-wood, which is okay," she said.

"I feel like I don't really have to play this course with a driver. If I have it, great, I have a couple more short irons in. But if anything, the course suits my game a lot."

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