Major winners Sei Young Kim of South Korea and Yuka Saso of Japan are part of a six-way tie for the lead at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship after Friday’s opening round in Rogers, Ark.
Kim birdied her final four holes to polish off a 7-under 64, joining Saso, Jeongeun Lee5 of South Korea, Megan Khang, Ryann O’Toole and Lauren Coughlin. The group is one stroke ahead of Vivian Hou of Taiwan and Lilia Vu at 6-under 65.
The tournament is a 54-hole event at Pinnacle Country Club with a cut after 36 holes down to the top 70 players and ties. For Kim, the fast start was vital.
“This week we have three days so we need a lot of birdies,” the 2020 Women’s PGA Championship winner said. “And then my strategy keep push myself and then, yeah, as I can do, I make a lot of birdies.”
Kim started on the back nine and birdied the par-4 10th before committing her only bogey of the day at the par-3 11th. She shook that off with birdies at Nos. 14, 18 and 1 before her hot stretch that started at the par-3 sixth.
Saso and Lee5 were the only co-leaders to turn in bogey-free rounds. Saso also started on the back nine, and after a quiet start she made five of her seven birdies on the front nine.
“My shots were very consistent today,” said Saso, who won the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open. “I didn’t really miss any shots. I chip really well, too. When I hit it close, I hole it. Putting was pretty good, too.”
O’Toole fired off six straight birdies, starting at the par-5 second hole.
“I think girls come out firing quickly, so to come out and get this low round early helps,” O’Toole said. “I feel like I tend to be a slower starter, so I’m really happy to kind of come out and get 7-under today.”
Coughlin eagled the par-5 18th to join the group.
“I had a really good drive,” Coughlin said. “Had 197 yards (left). Hit my favorite club in the bag, 4-hybrid to probably about 25, 28 feet or so. … It broke a ton and went right in.”
Sophia Schubert, Charley Hull and Georgia Hall of England, A Lim Kim and Jenny Shin of South Korea and Muni He of China are tied two shots off the pace at 5-under 66.
Nasa Hataoka of Japan, the defending champion, opened with a 3-under 68. World No. 2 Nelly Korda was also at 68.