IN the strongest Women’s Australian Open field ever assembled, it is a likeable local who has grabbed the early limelight, Queensland’s Katherine Kirk firing a blistering 8-under 65 at Royal Adelaide to grab the clubhouse lead among the morning field.
Kirk, a 13-year veteran of the LPGA Tour, began her day with three straight birdies and didn’t post a single bogey in recording matching nines of 4-under to be two ahead of a group of players including South Korea’s Chella Choi and Americans Jane Park and Marissa Steen.
Kirk’s best previous finish in her national championship came in 2010 when she was T4 behind Yani Tseng and the former Canadian Open winner said she was pleased with her play but cautious about getting ahead of herself.
“I had a lot of birdie chances,” Kirk said of what was an excellent ball-striking day. “I think I hit 15 or 16 greens and I had a couple of tap-ins for birdie as well.
“There are low numbers to be had out there, there’s a lot of birdie opportunities.
“But we’ve got so many good players here I wouldn’t be surprised if someone went out there this afternoon and shot 8 or 9-under.”
KATHERINE KIRK PRESS CONFERENCE AFTER FIRST ROUND AT WOMEN'S AUSTRALIAN OPEN
The morning conditions were ideal for scoring and Kirk was among those to make the most of her opportunities.
Of the three players sharing second place as the afternoon field took to the course, only Chella Choi had a bogey on her card.
Park posted four birdies and an eagle while Steen was solid with six birdies adding up to 67.
While Kirk raced to the top of the standings, several of the big name players in the field have put themselves in good position with 54 holes to play, Canada’s Brooke Henderson was true to her pre-tournament word of being more aggressive and signed for a 4-under 69.
“I felt like my goal was to get off to a faster start and 4-under is a good way to do that this week,” the 19-year-old said.
“The wind was down my first 9 or 10 holes, so I was trying to take advantage. The afternoon crew will definitely have a lot more wind out there.
“So, four birdies, no bogeys, I’m pretty happy and hopefully will shoot another similar round tomorrow.”
Henderson played with World Number One Lydia Ko and popular South Korean Hana Jang and that duo signed for 2-under and 3-under respectively.
For Ko, it was a case of what might have been as a cold putter saw her squander several makeable birdie chances on the day.
“I actually struck the ball really [well], I hit my drives good, which is really important around a course like this, but you know just the putts did not drop,” she said.
“I think I almost was grinding and grinding but it was good to see a putt drop on the final hole and hopefully that will give me good momentum going into tomorrow.
“I’m not complaining. It’s my first start back since CME so it’s been a while and there were a lot of positives and hopefully a few more putts drop throughout the week and go from there.”
With the afternoon field now on course, several players have already got to 2-under early, among them Su Oh and Scottish veteran Catriona Matthew.
LYDIA KO PRESS CONFERENCE AFTER FIRST ROUND AT WOMEN'S AUSTRALIAN OPEN