Golf: Top-ranked Ko Jin-young shoots 65 to grab LPGA first-round lead in Carlsbad

Ko Jin-young closed with three consecutive birdies to grab the top spot. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP, REUTERS) - World No. 1 golfer Ko Jin-young of South Korea fired a bogey-free seven-under 65 to seize a one-stroke lead after Thursday's (March 24) first round of the LPGA JTBC Classic.

Coming off her 13th career LPGA title three weeks ago at the HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore, she closed with three consecutive birdies to grab the top spot after 18 holes at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

Ko, whose parents are visiting and cooking her dinner every night, completed her 31st consecutive under-par LPGA round and her 16th in a row in the 60s.

"It feels great to record like one step at a time," the 26-year-old said. "I'm just trying to hit 60s today. These greens are really tricky so I didn't expect I'd make a lot of putts on this green, but I made a lot."

Denmark's Nanna Koerstz Madsen was second on 66 with American Cheyenne Knight, Scotland's Gemma Dryburgh and South Korean Choi Hye-jin on 67.

Ko, who started on the back nine, birdied the par-four 12th, par-three 14th and par-four 16th, then reeled off six pars in a row before a birdie at the par-five fifth and three in a row at the par-four seventh, par-five eighth and par-four ninth to close hr round on top.

"My mental (game) is strong right now," Ko said. "I can feel it growing, before Singapore. I have a lot of confidence right now in the course, especially with my caddie," Ko said. "He helps me a lot so I can get more confidence than without him. So I just want to say thank you to my caddie.

"I love to play golf right now. I'm really enjoying it right now. Shot by shot I can feel confidence 100 per cent and I can focus 100 per cent for my ball."

Ko won two Major titles and four LPGA victories overall in 2019 but says her best is yet to come.

"It's not coming yet," she said. "It's coming soon maybe. Even this year. I need to win more and I want to win more. But I have to focus on myself if I want to really get the wins."

Madsen, another back-nine starter, opened her front and back nines with back-to-back birdies, answered her lone bogey at the fourth with a birdie at the fifth and eagled the eighth to finish one off Ko.

"I'm very pleased with the score," the Dane said. "I made some good putts out there, which I maybe wasn't expecting only having 25 putts today, but it was good."

Knight, 25, said she was "feeling good".

"I feel like my game has been in a good spot for a little bit. It's just, you know, playing consistently, and I'm just excited to tee it up again."

A sixth-place pack on 68 comprised New Zealand's third-ranked Lydia Ko, Americans Mo Martin and Ryann O'Toole, Canada's Maude-Aimee Leblanc and Thailand's Pajaree Anannarukarn.

Defending champion Park In-bee of South Korea, a seven-time Major winner, opened with a one-under 71.

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