Golf: Henderson, Ji set early pace in LPGA opener

Brooke Henderson watches her tee shot on the fourth hole.
Brooke Henderson watches her tee shot on the fourth hole.PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (AFP) - Canada's Brooke Henderson and Ji Eun-hee of South Korea set the early pace in the opening round of the LPGA Tour's Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions on Thursday (Jan 17), carding six-under-par rounds to open up a one-shot lead.

Henderson recovered from a shaky start which saw her bogey the second hole before a blistering back nine sent her surging up the scoreboard at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

The 21-year-old world number nine reached the turn at one under after birdies on the fourth and seventh holes cancelled out her early bogey.

Henderson then unfurled three consecutive birdies from the 11th before two more on the 15th and 18th holes.

The Tournament of Champions sees LPGA tournament winners from the 2017 and 2018 seasons playing alongside celebrities and amateurs.

Henderson, whose group on Thursday included former NBA star Ray Allen, admitted the pro-am style event had left her struggling at first.

"I had to remind myself it wasn't Wednesday afternoon, it was Thursday, and I had to get a good score together," she said.

"I think that's when things kicked in on the front nine. I started getting a couple of birdies to recover from that bogey, and then from there I was ready to go and made a lot of birdies."

Henderson and Ji lead New Zealand's Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis of the United States by one shot.

Ko and Lewis both posted five-under-par 66s.

Former world number one Ko, ranked 14th, said she had not been sure what to expect in her first event of the year.

Ko posted six birdies but was denied a share of the lead after a bogey on the 16th.

"You don't really know what's going to happen," she said.

"Even though it's been a pretty short off-season, after an off-season, you don't really know what's going to happen.

"But I felt like I played with confidence and played with a lot of positivity."

Behind Lewis and Ko are a group of three players tied for fifth place after carding four-under-par 67s, Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, South Korea's Lee Mirim and Lexi Thompson.

World number one Ariya found herself relegated to a sideshow in a pairing with former Major League Baseball stars Kevin Millar and Josh Beckett.

"I didn't know who they were, but I know they are baseball players," Ariya said afterwards. "Nobody asked me for an autograph. They all asked them."

Ariya however was satisfied to shake out the off-season rust with a blemish-free 67 comprised of four birdies and 14 pars.

"I'm so nervous. I didn't play golf for so long," she said.

"After a while, I realised I have to play golf. So I'm getting better."