LOS ANGELES: Ryann O’Toole started hot and Sei-young Kim finished strong on Friday to join a group of six players sharing the first-round lead in the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship.
America’s O’Toole exploded with six straight birdies from the second through seventh holes at Pinnacle Country Club and finished with eight birdies in her 7-under par 64.
“It was one of those you just start laughing,” O’Toole said of her big birdie burst. “As the fifth one poured in and the sixth one poured in I’m, like, ‘OK, I got it. I’m just going to keep going.’“
And she needed all the birdies she could get as the crowd got bigger atop the leaderboard.
South Korean Kim’s eight birdies included four straight at her last four holes, the sixth through the ninth.
“Pretty solid round today,” Kim said, adding that the soft greens made it possible to attack the pins. “I’m very happy with the strong finish today.”
The leading group in the 54-hole event also included South Korean Lee5 Jeong-eun, Japan’s Yuka Saso and Americans Megan Khang and Lauren Coughlin.
Lee5 had seven birdies without a bogey while Khang had eight birdies and a bogey and Coughlin grabbed a share of the lead with a 28-foot eagle putt at the par-five 18th.
O’Toole, who returned from a month-long break to post a ninth-place finish at Portland last week, said her round could have been even better.
“I definitely felt like I left a lot out there still,” said O’Toole, who hit all 18 greens in regulation. “Eight birdies, but I still felt like there was a ton left out there, especially on the back side.”
Coughlin was in the first group off the tee on Friday and was warming up before it was really light.
The 29-year-old admitted she was nervous coming into the week which she entered 94th in the Race to the CME Globe with only three more full-field events remaining after the tournament.
While the top 60 in the race will qualify for the Tour Championship, for those ranked 85 to 110 the coming weeks are a battle to maintain their exempt status without having to go to the Q Series qualifier.
“I knew once I got in the groove of (the first round) it would go away,” she said of her nerves, “and it did.”
The leading bunch had a one-shot lead over Taiwan’s Vivian Hou and American Lilia Vu, with another six players a further stroke back.