STARTING smartly in a major tournament is a good habit, especially if you go on to win the title. Kim Hyo Joo opened with a record 61 on her way to victory in last year’s Evian Championship and the South Korean was at it again in the first round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry.
The 20-year-old has little English, but she was certainly expressive on the golf course with a faultless seven-under-par 65 that secured a one-shot lead over world No 2 Lydia Ko and the former US Open Champion, Cristie Kerr.
Playing early in lovely sunshine and just a hint of a breeze, Kim swept to the top of the leaderboard with five birdies and the shot of the day, a second at the 449-yard 14th that was a whisker away from dropping into the hole for an albatross two. She tapped in for eagle.
Ko had a 6.40am tee time and had set her alarm for 3.30am. She admitted she pressed the snooze button a few times before getting up to eat breakfast cooked by her mum.
The 18-year-old has two more chances – this week and at the Evian in France in September – to become the youngest ever winner of a women’s major and four birdies in a row from the second showed she had her mind on the task.
She made seven birdies in all and her only mistake was hitting a tee shot into a bunker for a bogey at the short sixth.
Not that the incredibly mature teenager bothers too much about breaking records. “I never really know about them until you tell me,” she said to the assembled press. But she is well aware that Morgan Pressel won the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship at 18 years ten months.
Ko has already set one incredible record by reaching the world No 1 position at the start of this year when she was just 17, but she tends to things in her stride. “I played very solid today and took advantage of the par fives and the good weather,” she said.
The Kiwi finished in the top five at the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies’ Scottish Open at Dundonald Links last week and she reflected that playing back-to-back weeks on links courses had been a wise choice.
“It helped get the jet lag out of my system and it was really good to get some practise of links style golf,” she continued. “I would definitely think about doing it again next year.”
Florentyna Parker, a two-time winner on the Ladies’ European Tour, was the leading British player on four-under-par 68. “It was brilliant,” she said. “After the practice rounds I thought ‘this is going to be tough’ and I was so intimidated by the course that I thought I would be pleased to shoot under 80. But I started OK [she eagled the third] and just kept it going.
“But it is early days. I need another good score and see how it goes over the next few days.”
Kerr hit a 5-iron to 20 feet and holed the putt for an eagle three at the 462-yard third. She also scattered six birdies on to an impressive scorecard to sustain her hopes of bettering her runner-up place behind fellow-American Sherri Steinhauer in the 2006 Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes. “Turnberry’s great and the weather was spectacular,” said the 37-year-old. “But I’m just going to take it day by day and see what happens.”
American Mo Martin, the defending champion who has been hampered by injury since her win at Royal Birkdale, made a very respectable start with a two-under-par 70, two birdies in the last five holes keeping her on the right side of par.
World No 1 Inbee Park was even better placed on 69, although the 26-year-old South Korean was “a little disappointed” with the score. “The course played quite easy but I wasn’t in full control of my ball striking,” she said. “But three under is not bad for the first day.”
Stacy Lewis, the American winner at St Andrews two years ago, also managed to get under par in the first round. She had even halves of 35 and was one of the few who managed to keep a bogey off the card.
In contrast, fellow-American Paula Creamer had one of the most adventurous rounds of the day. She was out in 40 and home in 31 for a 71.
She ran up an eight at the par four fifth where she hit into a bunker, hit out, hit into another bunker and then took three to escape.
“Colin, [Cann, her caddie] talked to me and told me I had to buckle down and come back,” she said. “I then nearly holed my second shot at the tenth and, from then on, I became a different player. The hardest part in golf is grinding it out.”