HSBC Women’s World Championship 2018

Golf: Jennifer's on Song at HSBC Women's World Championship

With seven birdies and a seven-under 65 on the opening day of the HSBC Women's World Championship, Jennifer Song (far left) has a two-shot lead against all expectations. The American has missed 61 cuts in 155 starts. Playing partner Lee Mi Hyang card
With seven birdies and a seven-under 65 on the opening day of the HSBC Women's World Championship, Jennifer Song (left) has a two-shot lead against all expectations. The American has missed 61 cuts in 155 starts. Playing partner Lee Mi Hyang carded a 72.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

World No. 66 takes two-stroke lead to steal the stars' thunder on New Tanjong Course

Befitting the daughter of a concert pianist and living up to her surname, Jennifer Song produced a performance yesterday that was in almost perfect harmony.

The American missed only one green in regulation and two fairways, took 29 putts, recorded seven birdies on an unblemished scorecard for an opening-round seven-under 65. It left her two clear atop the HSBC Women's World Championship leaderboard, with her compatriot Michelle Wie and South Korean Ji Eun Hee her nearest rivals.

Even Song was surprised by her position - she could not remember the last time she led an LPGA Tour tournament - given she has never won an LPGA title since joining the circuit in 2011. She won twice on the lower-tier Futures Tour in 2010.

The 28-year-old, who has missed 61 cuts in 155 starts with just two top-five finishes, said: "At times it has been a great struggle because I know I can win out here, but I just never have been given that chance yet. But I kept believing that some day, it will happen. That's the reason why myself and other golfers are still grinding, because we believe that we can win out here."

Over 61/2 hours - which included a two-hour lightning delay - yesterday on the New Tanjong Course, she was one of only three players - Danielle Kang and Su Oh both shot 68 and are tied-fourth - in the 63-strong field to go bogey-free.

The world No. 66 said: "There was just too much butterflies going on (in Thailand last week when she was 48th to start her season). But now that I got the feeling of playing a tournament, I was more comfortable coming into this week. I had a little bit of less pressure."

A life burdened by expectations has been par for the course for Wie, a former child prodigy.

The 28-year-old has learnt to handle setbacks with assurance and brushed off her three-putt bogey at the par-four 18th that dropped her back to five-under.

She said: "I hit a good putt. I just misread it. There isn't anything I can do. I can't go back and putt it. I'll be out there for three more days, and hopefully I won't misread that last green, so I feel good about it."

Ji was also feeling good about her game despite a closing bogey after she could not save par from three feet. Her win at October's Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship was her first title in more than eight years.

The 31-year-old said: "I feel more comfortable and more confident. So I'm trying to keep (aiming) higher now."

Kang, 25, is also hungry for more after ending her own winless drought - after 144 starts - with a win at last year's Women's PGA Championship.

The American, who broke her tooth on the driving range before her round yesterday but was given the all-clear by a dentist, said: "I definitely want to be in the winners' circle again. I got a little taste of it, so I want more. I played very easy golf (today). Everything seemed to flow very nicely out there."

It was a day of struggle though for some of the big names. Top-ranked Feng Shanshan is tied-17th after she signed for a 70, one better than former world No. 1 Lydia Ko, who is tied-27th. Defending champion Park In Bee, in her first LPGA start since last August's British Open, is joint-41st after a 73.

The three have won a combined 41 LPGA titles and more than US$32 million (S$42.4 million) in prize money.

Song's career earnings are just under US$1.5 million though she puts it to good use. At the end of every season, she allocates a portion of her winnings to charity - last year's donation went to underprivileged children in Africa.

It was based on a promise she made to her parents, who are never far from her thoughts, when she was a teenager.

She said: "By the time I get back to the hotel, I'll have a little text message from my parents and I'll probably give them a call because they just love to hear my voice."

No doubt her dad, who has a PhD in engineering, would be proud. His daughter had constructed an impeccable round of golf.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2018, with the headline 'Jennifer's on Song at Sentosa'. Print Edition | Subscribe