IK Kim started last and finished first on Wednesday in the first round of the Lotte Championship women’s golf tournament in Hawaii.
Kim birdied her final three holes and four of the last five for a seven-under-par 65 and a two-stroke lead.
Playing in the last group of the day off the 10th tee, Kim had eight birdies and one bogey in wind gusting to 40km/h at Ko Olina Golf Club. The South Korean player won the last of her three LPGA Tour titles in 2010.
“I hit a really good putt at No.7 and, at No.8, I hit an eight-iron downwind that stayed on top of the green so I was able to look at a makeable putt,” she said. “At the ninth, it was getting really dark. It was dinnertime really. There were just the three of us out there.”
“Birdie on the three finishing holes is why 65 was possible,” Kim said. “I didn’t think it was possible when I started today.”
South Korean players held the first five spots on the leaderboard. Na Yeon Choi, Inbee Park and rookie Sei Young Kim shot 67, and Jenny Shin was fifth after a 68.
Choi had four birdies on her second nine to take the lead in the morning wave. Park birdied four of her last six to catch her, slam-dunking a 15-metre putt on the final hole.
“I judged the wind great and holed a lot of good putts, especially the last putt,” Park said. “I can’t remember how long it’s been since I holed that long a putt.”
Choi, Sei Young Kim and Park have all won this year. Choi won the season-opening Coates Championship in Florida for her eighth LPGA title, Sei Young Kim took the Bahamas LPGA Classic and Park won the HSBC Women’s title in Singapore.
Founders Cup winner Hyo Joo Kim, Kia Classic champion Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer were in a nine-player group on 69.
Hawaii’s Michelle Wie, the defending champion, reached three under on the 15th, but bogeyed the next hole and finished on 70.
Minjee Lee is the best-placed Australian, tied 32nd after an even-par opening round of 72, ahead of Sarah Kemp who is equal 69th after a two-over 74.