After the opening round of the TOTO Japan Classic, there’s a seven-way tie at the top of the leaderboard in Ibaraki, Japan.
A full seven golfers finished deadlocked at 6-under par Friday, including three Japan Tour players – Nasa Hataoka, Saiki Fujita, and Ai Suzuki, two Americans – Lizette Salas and Jane Park, South Korea’s Min-Young Lee, and Shanshan Feng of China.
Suzuki, who ranks second on the 2017 JLPGA money list, is seeking her third win of the season on the Japan tour. The 23-year old star said she’s appreciating the home cooking this week.
“Commuting from home is really relaxing, just trying not to play too much with my dog,” joked Suzuki.
Feng, the defending champion, was only 1-under through 11 holes, but made five birdies over her final seven holes to move into a tie at the top. She is seeking to become the first golfer on the LPGA Tour to defend a title in 2017.
“I did start the day slowly, just like usual, and then I got my first birdie on the eighth hole finally. After that I was like that’s just the first of many, and then my ball striking was very good on the back nine,” said Fang. “My 5-iron was really working so it left me a lot of birdie chances and I even missed one five-foot birdie. I still made like four in a row in the last five holes so I’m really happy about that.”
Salas’ opening-round 66 marks her best first-round mark since she posted a 64 in Round 1 of the 2015 Meijer LPGA Classic.
“I feel really confident with these greens. They’re slick, they’re fast, which is the kind of greens I like to be on,” said Salas, who is making her first start in Japan. “My iron play has been improving so far and I’ve been making clutch putts when I need to.”
A pair of South Koreans, Sei Young Kim and Chae-Young Yoon, are tied for 8th with Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist at 5 under.
Nordqvist said she had been hitting it well of late but hasn’t been seeing her putts fall.
“It’s been overwhelming since Evian,” said Nordqvist, a two-time winner this season. “I’ve been starting to do my thing and I feel like today… I got a few more putts to drop.”
A group of 13 golfers are one shot back at 4-under, headlined by Americans Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson, who fired a 6-under-par 30 on her back nine, New Zealander Lydia Ko, who is still looking for her first victory of the year, and world No. 1 So Yeon Ryu of South Korea.
TOP 10: TOTO JAPAN CLASSIC
1 Min-Young Lee -6
1 Jane Park -6
1 Lizette Salas -6
1 Nasa Hataoka -6
1 Saiki Fujita -6
1 Ai Suzuki -6
1 Shanshan Feng -6
8 Anna Nordqvist -5
8 Sei Young Kim -5
8 Chae Young Yoon -5
ROUND 1 HIGHLIGHTS
— #CMEFinalStretch 🏁 (@LPGA) November 3, 2017
“What I did today was good, and I think I just stick to my same plan. I believe if my ball striking is as good as normal then I’ll give myself a lot of birdie chances every day. So, if my putting is working I should be able to shoot lower scores.”
–Shanshan Feng, Co-Leader
LEADERBOARD: ROUND 1
|8||Sei Young Kim||-5|
|8||Chae Young Yoon||-5|
|11||Mi Hyang Lee||-4|
|11||So Yeon Ryu||-4|
|24||Hyo Joo Kim||-3|
|24||Sun Ju Ahn||-3|
|24||In Gee Chun||-3|
|38||Jeong Eun Lee||-2|
|47||Sarah Jane Smith||-1|
|47||Jodi Ewart Shadoff||-1|
|73||Mi Jung Hur||3|
Credit: LPGA Communications, Getty Images