The foundations for another strong title challenge have been laid thanks to a bogey-free seven-under-par 65 in the opening circuit of the $2 million event, which is being held at Dundonald Links on this occasion as opposed to Dumbarnie Links.
The splendid effort, the early part of which coincided with a heavy downpour sweeping up the Ayrshire coast, left two-time major winner Ko sitting joint-second, one shot behind pacesetter Hye-Jin Choi from Korea.
“I played really solid,” said Ko, who has recorded a remarkable 23 title triumphs worldwide, including 17 on the LPGA Tour. “I gave myself good looks. And, even when I made mistakes, I was like pretty calm about things.”
After Choi had set the clubhouse target with a polished morning performance, Ko reeled off three straight birdies from the fourth, turned in 32 following another gain at the ninth before adding birdies at the 11th, 13th and 14th coming home. She squandered more good chances on that inward journey, but it was still a great day’s work.
“I like playing links golf,” added the 25-year-old, who has always been a popular figure in Scotland. “I think I haven't played as well as I have wanted. I've only played really well at one British Open and one Scottish Open.”
Another reason why Ko is already feeling good about her chances this week is because she’s staying on site in one of the luxury lodges that have been built along with a swanky clubhouse by new owners Darwin Escapes since the event’s last visit in 2017.
“Jen (Kupcho, one of her playing partners) was saying as we were walking down the 10th hole, ‘our bed is so close to there’,” commented Ko. “And it's super convenient. “This wasn't like part of the facilities we had last time we were here. So I was surprised when they said there was this option.
“And it's nice to be able to roll out of bed and you don't have to think about ‘is there going to be traffic?’ and especially driving on the other side of the road to normal in the US. So I feel like it's very efficient use of time.”
Choi, who recorded top-five finishes in both the US Women’s Open and Women’s PGA earlier this year, set the pace after singing for an eagle and seven birdies, covering her last five holes in five-under.
“My putter was very good,” said the leader. “So I just believed in my green-reading and just hit it. That really worked and all the balls hit the middle of hole. I just made birdies when I got the chance and I played well with a good attitude on the rest of my holes.
“To be honest, I don't have good memories on this style of golf course. But today I had a good result because there was no wind and my shots were really good. But the forecast said it'll be windy the rest of the rounds. So I think that I need to practice lower shots and some chip shots around the green.”
Frenchwoman Celine Boutier, a member of the winning European team in the last two Solheim Cups, also opened with a seven-birdie salvo, including three in the first five holes on the Kyle Phillips-designed course, as she matched Ko’s score.
“It was a little bit of everything,” said the 28-year-old, a two-time LPGA winner and three-time LET champion, of the conditions the afternoon starters faced.
“It was calm all day, but then there was a part in the middle that was really kind of crazy. And it started picking up, too. And then it was really calm at the end, too. So it wasn't that bad, I guess, overall.”
American Lilia Vu, a former amateur world No 1, also sits on seven-under, one ahead of both England’s Georgia Hall, the 2018 Women’s Open champion, and Korea’s Narin An.
“Honestly, I was just laughing with my caddie,” said Vu of the short but sharp afternoon deluge. “We were like, ‘okay, this is the taste of Scotland. I was expecting this’. But the past couple days have been so pretty. So, yeah, definitely got a taste of Scotland today.”
The 24-year-old Californian gave herself a shake after being disappointed with her attitude following a missed cut in last week’s Evian Championship in France. “I was a little bit of a party-pooper last week. I was just in a bad mood,” admitted Vu.
“And then I had some self-reflections. I missed the cut by one, but anyone would kill to be in my position. I was telling my mom, I was in such a bad mood, I complained about everything. Now I think I’m enjoying myself more. I'm just trying to appreciate everything and be grateful for where I am.”
Minjee Lee, the US Women’s Open champion, opened with a 67, as did German Leonie Harm, who nearly lost her life in 2013. Five years before winning the Ladies’ British Amayeur at Hillside, Harm was jogging when a drunk driver hit her going an estimated 45 miles per hour.
The accident left her in a coma, as she suffered broken ribs, a broken hip and ankle, a collapsed lung and head injuries. “We’ll do what we can, but there’s no hope,” doctors told her family at the time before she made a full recovery.
Defending champion Ryann O’Toole opened with a bogey-free 68 while world No 1 Ko Jin Young sits on two-under in a group that also includes Charley Hull and Sophia Popov, who won the 2020 AIG Women’s Open a few miles down the coast at Royal Troon.