They came to see Lydia Ko. And the pre-tournament favourite thrilled the large galleries that flocked to see the Kiwi superstar defend her MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open at Auckland’s Windross Farm Golf Course.
In the first ever LPGA event held on New Zealand soil, Ko fired an opening two-under-par 70 to trail the leaders by five shots. Canada’s Brooke Henderson and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff shared the clubhouse lead after shooting seven-under 65.
The two leaders took advantage of preferred lies and benign morning conditions to get into red numbers. Spain’s Belen Mozo was a further stroke back after a 66, along with Wales’ Amy Boulden who was the best of the afternoon field.
Tied for fifth were American Brittany Lincicome, Spaniard Beatriz Recari and Korea’s Na Yeon Choi who all carded five-under 67.
But it was the hometown girl the fans wanted to see. The gallery was three deep in some places and Windross Farm proved an ideal tournament venue. Its sculptured spectator mounding provided numerous vantage points to watch Ko play her first round as a professional in Auckland.
Teeing off early on the back nine, Ko got off to a flyer with birdies on three of her opening six holes. But her momentum stalled with six consecutive pars before a dropped shot at the par-4 fourth hole. She rebounded immediately with a birdie at the fifth to get back to three-under, but dropped another stroke at the eighth.
Afterwards, Ko said she was pretty solid but disappointed with the sloppy finish. “I hit the ball well throughout the day and gave myself a good look at birdies, even on my back nine [holes 1-9], but just wasn’t able to hole them.”
But she was clearly delighted with the hometown support from Auckland and beyond: “There is a lot of golf to play, I have to stay positive and have fun. It is just fun playing at home and I don’t get to do this often and hear the fans clapping for me whether I make a bogey or birdie – it was fun to be in that rhythm of things.”
Co-leader Ewart Shadoff was similarly impressed, saying: “I was pleasantly surprised at how many people were out here today. I didn’t expect this many people. Around our group and Lydia’s group it was very comparable to a weekend in a domestic event in the US, which was very nice to see.”
World No.12 Henderson didn’t think Windross Farm was suited to her game. But the she caught fire on her back nine with five birdies in the last 10 holes. With the weather expected to worsen on the weekend, it’s a good place to be.
“It was a great start for me and exactly what I was looking for to get on top of the leaderboard early,” said Henderson. “To shoot minus seven on a golf course that I didn’t think completely suited my game is really exciting.”
Scores after round 1 of the MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open being played at Windross Farm Golf Course (a-denotes amateur):
65: Brooke M. Henderson (CAN), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (ENG)
66: Belen Mozo (ESP), Amy Boulden (WAL)
67: Brittany Lincicome (USA), Beatriz Recari (ESP), Na Yeon Choi (KOR)
68: Mariajo Uribe (COL), Perrine Delacour (FRA), Madelene Sagstrom (SWE)
69: Brooke Pancake (USA), Su Oh (AUS), Pernilla Lindberg (SWE), Nontaya Srisawang (THA), Madeleine L Sheils (USA), Pavarisa Yoktuan (THA), Hee Young Park (KOR), Yani Tseng (TPE), Sun Young Yoo (KOR)
70: Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras (THA), Brianna Do (USA), A-Yean Cho (am, KOR), Therese O’Hara (DEN), Laura Gonzalez Escallon (BEL), Thidapa Suwannapura (THA), Lydia Ko (NZL), Gaby Lopez (MEX), Min Seo Kwak (KOR), Paula Reto (RSA), Emily Tubert (USA), Maude-Aimee Leblanc (CAN), Jing Yan (CHN), Amelia Garvey (am, NZL)
71: Mina Harigae (USA), Rose Zheng (am, NZL), Dana Finkelstein (USA), Sandra Changkija (USA), Mel Reid (ENG), Tiffany Joh (USA), Christina Kim (USA), Mohan Du (am, CHN), Amelia Lewis (USA), Rachel Rohanna (USA), Ally McDonald (USA), Laura Eum (KOR), Danielle Kang (USA), Katherine Kirk (AUS), Jackie Stoelting (USA), Becky Morgan (WAL)
72: Katherine Perry (USA), Holly Clyburn (ENG), Nicole Broch Larsen (DEN), Ryann O’Toole (USA), Alena Sharp (CAN), Hanee Song (NZL), Sarah Kemp (AUS), Gemma Clews (ENG), Youngin Chun (am, KOR), Eun Jeong Seong (am, KOR), Peiyun Chien (TPE), Jennifer Song (USA), Megan Khang (USA), Lee Lopez (USA), Bronte Law (ENG), Prima Thammaraks (THA), Ilhee Lee (KOR), Annie Park (USA)
73: Stacey Peters (AUS), Dottie Ardina (PHI), Celine Herbin (FRA), Wenyung Keh (am, NZL), Kris Tamulis (USA), Katie Burnett (USA), Selin Hyun (am, KOR), Vicky Hurst (USA), Cheyenne Woods (USA), Sarah Jane Smith (AUS), Wichanee Meechai (THA), Lindy Duncan (USA), Catriona Matthew (SCO)
74: Lorie Kane (CAN), Min Lee (TPE), Hyeon Ju Heo (KOR), Chantelle Cassidy (am, NZL), Haeji Kang (KOR), Aditi Ashok (IND), Giulia Molinaro (ITA), Alejandra Llaneza (MEX), Whitney Hillier (AUS), Maria Parra (ESP), Karen Chung (USA), Mariah Stackhouse (USA), Hannah Park (am, AUS), Jane Park (USA), Caroline Hedwall (SWE), Ayako Uehara (JPN), Amy Olson (USA), Juliana Hung (am, NZL)
75: Alexandra Orchard (AUS), Sadena A Parks (USA), Kelly Tan (MAS), Dani Holmqvist (SWE), Simin Feng (CHN)
76: Emily K. Pedersen (DEN), Beth Allen (USA), Brittney Dryland (am, NZL), Cathryn Bristow (NZL), Angela Stanford (USA), Sheridan Gorton (AUS), Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong (THA)
77: Tamara Johns (AUS), Xiyu Lin (CHN), Munchin Keh (NZL)
78: Demi Runas (USA), Jennifer Ha (CAN), Julianne Alvarez (am, NZL), Lauren Hibbert (AUS), Kristen Farmer (AUS), Tania Tare (NZL), Wei-Ling Hsu (TPE), Marissa M Steen (USA), Olafia Kristinsdottir (ISL), Breanna Gill (AUS), Paige Stubbs (AUS), Jessica Cowie (AUS)
80: Lynnette Brooky (NZL), Brooke M. Baker (USA)
81: Ellen Davies-Graham (AUS), Yifan Ji (am, CHN)
82: Dori Carter (USA)
83: Jenna Hunter (NZL)
88: Phillis Meti (COK)