(Reuters) - South Korea’s Park Inbee made an ideal start in pursuit of a third major crown this year as she charged into an early one-shot lead in Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Women’s Open in Southampton, New York.
Taking advantage of some favorable tee positions, the in-form world number one birdied four of her last nine holes to fire a superb five-under-par 67 at Sebonack Country Club, finishing a stroke in front of Swede Caroline Hedwall.
“I played very good today,” the 24-year-old Korean told reporters after mixing six birdies with a lone bogey and totaling only 25 putts. “I hit the ball very good, didn’t miss many fairways or greens.”
American Natalie Gulbis, England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Mariajo Uribe of Colombia, South Korean Yang Je-yoon, Filipino Jennifer Rosales and Frenchwoman Karine Icher were three off the pace after opening with 70s.
However, Inbee will have given every other player in the field plenty to think about after surging to the top of the leaderboard in her bid for a sixth victory on the 2013 LPGA Tour, and the fourth major title of her career.
Tournament organizers had moved several of the tees up due to concerns over a poor weather forecast for Thursday, and Inbee took advantage with some aggressive approach play.
“I was able to attack some pins where the USGA (United States Golf Association) was a little generous on us, a lot of tees were moved up. So instead of hitting like five-irons, we were hitting nine-irons, and that made the course much easier,” said Inbee.
“I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. I made a lot of putts and didn’t leave much out there.”
Having already won this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship and LPGA Championship, Inbee is oozing self-belief as she seeks to emulate Babe Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) by clinching three major titles in one season.
“I do have a lot of confidence in myself at the moment ... the way I‘m playing, the way things have been going, the way I’ve been getting the luck,” said Inbee.
“I think I am in the zone. I’ve been playing my best in my career at the moment. I really just want to enjoy the moment.”
Inbee, who at 19 became the youngest ever winner of the U.S. Women’s Open with a four-shot victory in the 2008 edition at Interlachen, was a heavy favorite coming into this week following wins in her previous two starts on the LPGA Tour.
“I’ve played very good golf the last two or three months,” the Korean said. “Everything’s been going the right way. Everything’s going the way I really want it to.”
Defending champion Choi Na-yeon of South Korea and American world number two Stacy Lewis were among a group of seven players who opened with 71s at Sebonack.
However, third-ranked Norwegian Suzann Pettersen battled to a 76 while American Michelle Wie fared even worse, laboring to an eight-over 80.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue