Danielle Kang leads the Race to CME Globe and, at No. 5 in the world, is the top-ranked player in the LPGA Drive On Championship-Lake Reynolds Oconee.
She showed why Thursday.
Kang shot a 7-under 65 for a share of the first-round lead with Jennifer Song.
“I think I know the golf course a little bit better,” Kang said.
“I’ve only played it once technically so it’s still very new, but I just tried to work on some pace drills on the greens and figure out the type of grass around here. I feel good about today.”
The event is the second tournament added to the schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down women’s golf for five months.
The other “Drive On” tournament was in Toledo, Ohio, in late July and marked the return. Kang won that event at Inverness and followed with a victory the next week in the LPGA Marathon Classic in Sylvania, Ohio. She has five LPGA Tour victories after winning the US Women’s Amateur in 2010 and 2011.
“I think it’s just really exciting that the LPGA Drive On could happen during this break,” Kang said.
“It’s been cool.”
Kang birdied three of the four par-5 holes in the bogey-free afternoon round on the Great Waters Course.
“To be honest, I made some putts today, which made me really happy,” Kang said.
Song closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th, her fifth in the final seven holes. The former University of Southern California player is winless on the LPGA Tour. In 2009, she swept the US Women’s Amateur and Public Links.
“This course is really tough and, in the afternoon, the greens got really crusty, so there was a lot of calculation,” Song said.
“The wind picked up a little bit, so it was kind of confusing, but I managed it pretty well. I’m really happy about 7-under par today. I didn’t think that was possible to shoot that score out there, but I had a great round.”
She played alongside Juli Inkster, the 60-year-old Hall of Famer who had a 77 in her third start of the year.
Ally McDonald made it three U.S. players at the top, shooting a bogey-free 66.
“Just playing really consistently. Ball-striking was really good,” McDonald said.
“Managed to roll some putts in.”
Ariya Jutanugarn bogeyed the 18th in a 67. The 24-year-old Thai star won the last of her 10 LPGA Tour titles in the 2018 Ladies Scottish Open.
“Didn’t expect to shoot it low at all, because like soon as I saw the course, I feel like this course going to be tough,” Jutanugarn said.
“We play pretty long and the green is pretty tough.”
American Lindsey Weaver also shot 67.