Sei Young Kim one back of co-leaders after opening round of Pure Silk

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Ruixin Liu birdied the final two holes late Thursday afternoon for a 5-under 66 and a share of the first-round lead with Wei-Ling Hsu in the LPGA Tour’s Pure Silk Championship.

Liu opened with a 5-under 30 on the back nine, bogeyed Nos. 3 and 6 and rebounded with the birdies on the par-4 eighth and ninth holes at Kingsmill Resort. Seeking her first LPGA Tour victory, the 22-year-old Chinese player won two of the first three events this year on the Symetra Tour.

Hsu had a bogey-free round in the morning. Winless in her seven-year LPGA Tour career, the 26-year-old Taiwanese player birdied the River Course’s two front-nine par 5s and made three in a row on Nos. 12-14 in the morning round.

“I feel quite the same from very first hole all the way to the 18th,” Hsu said. “I just kept waiting. I know my feeling is pretty good right now, even finish four (pars) in a row. I just keep simple and then just stay focused.”

Sei Young Kim was a stroke back with Luna Sobron Galmes, Kelly Tan and Jiwon Jeon.

Kim made her lone bogey on the par-3 17th — her eighth hole of the round — when a tap-in lipped out.

“I just try to tap in, finish, and it’s lip out,” the 12-time tour winner said. “I was like, What was that?′ I’m like little shock. I told myself, How stupid am I?’”

Highlights: Pure Silk Championship first round

Full-field scores from Pure Silk Championship

Stacy Lewis was at 68 with Elizabeth Szokol, Tiffany Joh, Ryann O’Toole and Megan Khang.

“Played really solid and made a couple par putts,” Lewis said. “Two lip-outs for birdies, but other than that it was good.”

Playing partner Ariya Jutanugarn, coming off a victory two weeks ago in her home LPGA Tour event in Thailand, opened with a 70. She won at Kingsmill in 2016 and 2018.

Sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda also shot 70.

Lexi Thompson had a 73. She set the tournament record of 20-under 264 in 2017.

Paula Creamer shot a 76 in her first LPGA Tour start since tying for 63rd in the BMW Ladies Championship in October 2019. Coming off wrist and thumb injuries, she also has an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open in two weeks.

Wei-Ling Hsu captures first LPGA Tour win in Williamsburg

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Wei-Ling Hsu of Chinese Taipei made an eagle on the 15th hole to overtake playing partner Moriya Jutanugarn on the leaderboard and went on to win the Pure Silk Championship in Williamsburg, Virginia, for her first career LPGA Tour victory.

Jutanugarn, of Thailand, carded a double bogey on the same hole at the River Course at Kingsmill Resort. In one four-stroke swing, Hsu went from trailing Jutanugarn by two to leading her by the same margin.

Hsu birdied No. 16 for good measure and scored a final-round 68 to finish 13-under 271 (66-72-65-68). Jutanugarn took second at 11 under (71-67-65-70), and American Jessica Korda was alone in third at 10 under (70-67-67-70).

“A couple weeks ago I asked my caddie, ‘If I won, are you gonna cry?’” Hsu said. “And my caddie said, ‘Yeah, I’ll cry.’ And I told him I’m not gonna cry. I think this is the happiest thing ever … and somehow I just cried so hard during the last hole.”

Hsu and Jutanugarn shared the 54-hole lead entering the day. Birdies on Nos. 10, 13 and 14 helped Jutanugarn build an advantage.

On the second shot of the par-15 15th, Hsu went for the green. Her shot kicked off a mound at the front-left of the green and redirected toward the pin, cozying up for an easy eagle putt.

At the same time, Jutanugarn needed multiple shots to get out of a bunker, leading to her double bogey.

“Fifteen is really a birdie chance and reachable par-5,” Hsu said. “I didn’t know Mo was hitting into the bunker at that time. I just try to hit as hard as I can on the driver and try to hit a little closer, give myself a chance.”

Hsu became the first Taiwanese player to win on the LPGA Tour since Yani Tseng at the 2012 Kia Classic.

“Taiwan, it’s such a small country and I know it’s been a while without any Taiwanese player winning on the tour,” she said. “So I really wanted to break that (drought) and be the next one on tour.”

It is Hsu’s seventh season on the tour. She had two top-10 finishes this year entering the week.

Australian Sarah Kemp finished 9 under for fourth place. Lizette Salas and Thailand’s Wichanee Meechai tied for fifth at 8 under.

New Zealand’s Lydia Ko struggling to remain a force in women’s golf

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The Detail: Lydia Ko once had the world at her feet. Now the Kiwi golf star is in the rough.

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

We have no record of Oscar Wilde being any good with a six-iron from 160 metres, but he knew plenty about fame and success.

So did New Zealand golfer Lydia Ko. Once. Now she knows what it’s like to be not part of the conversation.

Ko’s success rate has plummeted in the past year and as 2019 draws to a close, the New Zealander has rarely been a sporting conversation in recent months.


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And while that may seem an upgrade for her on the constant concerns over her displays mid-year, it’s a worrying sign the former World No 1 is in danger of becoming a non-factor in women’s golf.

Ko turned pro in 2013 after dominating the amateur ranks - first at home and in Australia before regularly beating the world’s best.

In the paid ranks, she quickly began to match those achievements. She became the No 1 women’s player aged 17 years and nine months - the youngest of either gender to be the world’s best.

She set new marks by becoming the youngest player to win a major; then the youngest to win two.

GETTY IMAGES Lydia Ko has been looking for her best game all season.

When she was included in Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people a day before her 17th birthday, she was poised to become the new Tiger Woods.

But without the scandal and injuries that facilitated Woods’ downfall, the Kiwi has been on a steady downhill slide.

Ko will tee it up for the last time in the LPGA season at the Tour Championship starting on Friday (NZ time) in Florida.

But the 22-year-old’s form this year has been so unflattering only a few delusional fans will show any confidence in Ko being high up the leaderboard.

Ko has had 15 career wins on the tour, the last of which came 19 months ago.

She’s ranked 36th on the ‘Race to CME Globe’ standings, with 1018 points. Players ranked 56th and above have qualified to play in Florida and the 56th-ranked player has 707 points this season.

Contrast that with leader Jin Young Ko has 4148 pts - so the Kiwi is effectively 10 times closer to not qualifying to play at the tournament than she is to the best player in the world currently.

Ko has had just four top-10 finishes this season - taking her LPGA career tally to 78.

Hence, her earnings this year have been $US429,905 (NZ$671,843) - in contrast with her best season, when she collected more than $US2.5 million (NZ$3.9 million)

Given the personable Ko has career winnings of more than $US10 million and a number of lucrative sponsorship and promotional deals, just under half-a-million in 2019 isn’t going to have the Kiwi running to the bank manager.

But golf is an expensive sport to play at the top level - constant travel and accommodation costs mount up.

SUPPLIED Lydia Ko has plenty of lucrative sponsorship deals.

Ko’s tournament record this season is one of mediocrity - and it’s not looking any more promising as Christmas nears. She has one top-20 finish in her last nine tournaments.

Her best result in 2019 was a tie for sixth at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in July, for $US28,992 (NZ$45,308). But that was a two-player team event, with Ko playing with South Korea’s In Gee Chun, finishing nine shots behind the runaway victors. Her biggest collect - $US69,809 - came when she finished tied for 10th at the PGA Champs in June.

The reasons behind her slump have been widely discussed - they’re no secret to Ko, who continues to work hard and seek improvements. Regular switches of coaches and caddies are constantly scrutinised, as is the impact her parents still have on her career.

Women’s golf has become fiercely competitive in recent years - something Ko can partly take credit for, ever since she emerged as a teen sensation.

The South Korean-born golfer has helped inspire a new generation of precocious talents - there are 13 South Korean players in the top 30.

The new young stars - along with the experienced cream - continue to hit the ball further each season, and distance off the tee has always been lacking in Ko’s game.

While she’s found some extra length in on the LPGA Tour, she is still being out-hit by almost everyone - she sits 150th in average driving distance.

GETTY IMAGES Lydia Ko hasn’t contended for a title on tour in 2019.

​That’d be ok if she was hitting it arrow-straight and putting superbly - but she’s not.

Ko is outside the top 100 in driving accuracy. Making greens in regulation used to be her bread and butter but now it’s barely a palatable snack - her success rate of 67.99% ranks her 91st on tour.

Putting has long been a factor in Ko’s prominence - she was a wiz with the flat-stick in a dominant amateur career and carried that proficiency into the professional ranks.

But this year she sits 24th with 1.78 putts per GIR and seventh on putting averages with 29.19 per round.

Not to be sneezed at, but still a marked difference from her banner year in 2016, when she led the tour in putts per GIR (1.71) and putting average (28.31).

That helped her to finish second in the 2016 standings, claiming US$2.5m in prizemoney. Only a remarkable turnaround in Florida this week - where there is a $US5 million purse - would get Ko back among the top money-winners in 2019.

There are a swag of golfers who would love Ko’s current career. NZ’s highest-ranked men’s player is Danny Lee, whose recent form has lifted him to world No 88.

Lee was also an amateur superstar. When he won the US amateur title in 2008, he broke the record as the youngest to do so held by Woods.

He was also the youngest player to win a European Tour event - as an 18-year-old. But his professional career has never looked like threatening Ko’s heights.

We’ve seen champion golfers lose their way and recover before - the latest being Woods’ remarkable Masters triumph this year.

STACY REVERE/GETTY IMAGES Lydia Ko will play in the season-ending LPGA tournament this wee.

But the demise of Yani Tseng stands as a scary cautionary tale for Ko. A teen amateur sensation, the Taiwanese player was the youngest to win on the LPGA Tour - before Ko arrived - and she’d collected $US2 million in prizemoney in her first 13 months on tour.

She won five Majors in the next two years and was being talked about as potentially the best women’s player in history and - ring any bells? - was among Time’s 100 most influential people.

But her form trailed off in late 2012 and the following year she fell from fourth to 38th on the LPGA money-list.

After disappearing for a spell, Tseng has tried to recapture past glories in recent seasons but it’s been a fruitless pursuit. She is 622 in the world.

Whether Ko can rise again will come down to a number of factors - her desire to again be the best likely to be the key.

Maybe after almost a decade of superiority, that challenge could be the stiffest yet.