Choi, Yang lead in rain-plagued start to KPMG tourney

The biggest names in women’s golf were notably absent from the top of the leaderboard on Thursday during Round 1 of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields.

Korean Chella Choi, a morning starter, shot a 5-under-par 66 on Olympia Fields’ North Course and another Korean, Amy Yang, was at 5-under after playing 17 holes in the afternoon. Play was called for the day at 7:18 a.m. because lightning was detected in the area. Yang will complete her first round when play resumes at 7:15 a.m. today and the second round is to start on time, at 7:45 a.m.

American Brittany Altomare, who played in the morning, was one shot back with a 67 and Joanna Klatten of France was also a 4-under with two holes left when play was stopped on Thursday.

Canadian Brooke Henderson, the defending champion, and the enigmatic Michelle Wie shot 68s in the morning and were in a four-player group at that number, joining Alison Lee, Wie’s playing partner, and Korean Su Oh. Kim Kaufman and Emily Petersen were at 3-under and still on the course when play ended for the day.

Though not all the late starters could finish, those with afternoon tee times had better scoring conditions than their morning counterparts, who had to endure strong winds.
Such unfortunate tee times negatively affected Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, who was ranked No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings until Korean So Yeon Ryu replaced her at her teeoff time on Thursday.

Jutanugarn, who won the U.S. Girls Junior on Olympia’s South Course in 2011, shot 6-over-par 77 and is in danger of missing the 36-hole cut, which will be made after the second round. The low 70 and ties will play on the weekend.

The morning start also made scoring difficult for Stacy Lewis, one of the top Americans. She lost five shots to par early before rallying for a 3-over 74. Playing in the afternoon didn’t greatly benefit Ryu, who shot 69 on her 27th birthday; No. 3-ranked Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who posted 70; or three-time champion Inbee Park of South Korea, who managed a 73.

“There’s 156 players in the field this week. The top 100 in the world are here. Anybody can win this championship,’’ said Henderson, who won last year at Sahalee in Washington in a sudden death playoff with Ko. “I would love to win again, but it’s a different golf course and a different year.’’

Henderson, though, is clearly in the hunt.

“I was going to take it a day at a time and see what happens,’’ she said, “but I’m in a great spot right now so I’m really excited.’’

However — based on their career records — there’s no reason to think that either Choi or Yang won’t be in contention throughout the 72-hole competition that concludes on Sunday as well.

Choi may have only one LPGA victory, but she entered 2017 with over $4 million in winnings and has had top-10 finishes in four of the LPGA’s five major championships. She tied for fifth in the KPMG event in 2013.

With her father working as her caddie Choi, 26, took command of the course that hosted the men’s U.S. Open in 2003 though she had played only 18 holes on it before the tournament.

“I don’t remember every hole,’’ said Choi. “I asked my dad for advice on every hole, every shot, and my shots were very good.’’

She plans to continue the “father knows best’’ routine for the next three days.

Yang, 27, has a record in majors that’s even better than Choi’s. She was second in the U.S. Women’s Open twice, had fourth-place finishes in both the ANA Inspiration and Ricoh Women’s British Open and tied for fifth in the KPMG event in 2013.

Her most spectacular moment, though, came in the 2015 KEB-HanaBank Championship when she became the first player in LPGA history to birdie every hole on one nine. She posted a 27 for that side and went on to claim the first of her two career victories.