INCHEON (AFP) - South Korean golfer Kang Hae Ji, still seeking her first career LPGA victory, fired a five-under 67 on Thursday to lead the field after the opening round at the KEB-HanaBank Championship.
She battled through a gusty day to collect six birdies along with a bogey on the par-72, 6,364-yard Ocean Course at the Sky72 Golf and Resort club in Incheon.
Lurking behind the leader is the defending champion Amy Yang of South Korea, who shot a 69 with six birdies and three bogeys. She is in a five-way tie for second, along with the 2012 runner-up Catriona Matthew.
Kang, who made her tour debut in 2009, was one of the first to tee off on Thursday. She said there was virtually no wind when she was getting ready on the range but the conditions changed dramatically once she reached the first tee.
"On a windy day like this, I felt I'd be better off playing safe and aiming for the centre of the greens than being aggressive," she said. "I made some great putts today to save pars on the front nine. Then I made a 40-foot putt for birdie on the 12th, and it gave me a great boost."
Kang, who has just two top-10s in 23 starts this year, said a win was there for the taking. "It usually gets windy out here but the course isn't overly long," she said. "I can reach some of the par-five greens in two. If I can hit good wedge shots, then I can post good scores."
World No. 1 Park In Bee was at one-under 71 after a roller-coaster ride that included four birdies and three bogeys.
With the top-ranked Stacy Lewis not playing this week, a victory for Park in Incheon would see her reclaim the leading spot she lost earlier this year after a 59-week reign.
The US$2 million (S$2.54 million) tournament is the LPGA Tour's lone South Korean stop each year.