Higa leads at US Open, Woods in the hunt at Memorial

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CHARLESTON (South Carolina) • Japan's Mamiko Higa, feeding off encouragement from her sumo wrestler fiance, wielded a hot putter to take the first-round lead at her first US Women's Open with a six-under 65 on Thursday.

She did not have a blemish in her six-birdie performance, a record low round on a debut at the Major.

It earned her a one-shot lead over German qualifier Esther Henseleit and American amateur Gina Kim, the latter helped by an eagle with an eight-iron from 140 yards at her penultimate hole.

Higa, 25, did not have high expectations after recent mediocre form on her home tour, but a co-operative putter and some good advice helped to turn things around.

"I felt really great through 18 holes," she said. "Putting was the best thing."

The world No. 49 and her fiance Ikioi Shota are a celebrity couple in Japan, where Shota is a successful professional sumo wrestler.

"He just said to me, 'Have fun and enjoy yourself'," Higa said of the advice he had offered.

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  • Putts that Japan's Mamiko Higa (left) took in the US Women's Open first round, helped by her hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens.

She is used to the spotlight after twice winning the Japan amateur championship before turning professional in 2012. She has accrued five Japan LPGA Tour victories, and last year made her mark on the international stage by finishing joint fourth at the Women's British Open.

While Higa got off to a quick start, some of the pre-championship favourites struggled. World No. 1 Ko Jin-young bogeyed four of her first 10 holes en route to a 72, the same score as defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn. The American Korda sisters Nelly and Jessica did better, both carding 69.

Elsewhere, Tiger Woods shot a two-under 70 and ended the first round tied for 23rd at the Memorial Tournament as Ryan Moore posted a 65 to lead fellow American Jordan Spieth by one stroke.

Meanwhile, Woods' former coach Hank Haney has been suspended by the SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio channel, a day after making disparaging remarks about women's golf during his programme.

Speaking on the eve of the US Women's Open, he said he did not know where the tournament was being held, nor could he name six players, but predicted it would definitely be won by a South Korean.

His remarks were rebuked on social media by several players, including Michelle Wie, one of the women's game's bigger stars.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2019, with the headline 'Higa leads at US Open, Woods in the hunt at Memorial'. Print Edition | Subscribe