Minjee Lee birdied four of her final five holes on Thursday to take the outright lead on day one of the Blue Bay LPGA in Hainan Island, China. Lee carded a seven-under par, 65 to lead by two-strokes ahead of Sandra Gal and Jessica Korda at five-under par and Chella Choi at four-under par. Brooke Henderson, Caroline Masson, Austin Ernst and Carlota Ciganda are T-6 at three-under par.

With limited ability to practice due to the typhoon that moved through the area this week, Lee played as if she’d known the course for years with only having made just one other start in this event.

“Well, I only had, I got nine holes practice yesterday, because we flew in yesterday,” Lee told the media. “But no, I just took it one shot at a time and didn't try to get ahead of myself. Just played my own game today and a lot of my putts dropped today.”

For the third time in 2016 Lee holds the first round lead on the LPGA Tour. One of those two leads Lee was able to convert for a win, capturing the LOTTE Championship for her second career win. Defending champion Sei Young Kim also won last year’s LOTTE Championship in Hawaii and then went on to win the Blue Bay LPGA, with both players’ games well suited for warm and windy island conditions.

Lee holds a two-stroke lead ahead of Gal and Korda at five-under par. The American opened with a bogey-free, five-under par, 67 for her first sub-70 round since the Evian Championship. The world No.32 finished in a share of third in the first playing of this event in 2014 when it was shortened to 54-holes due to weather but struggled in last year’s blustery conditions to a 52nd place finish. Korda will defend her title next week at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia where she won her the fourth event of her career after going without a win for more than one year.

2016 has been a tough year for Sandra Gal, who held the early lead on day one by getting off to a quick start with an eagle and two birdies in her first five holes. The world No.73 carded a five-under par, 67 for her first sub-70 round since the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August. 

“Yeah, it was my second hole,” Gal said about her eagle. “I had around, I think I had 89 yards to the pin and there was a little back stop so I played it to go a little long and come back and I had a perfect line and it just rolled in. It's just a nice start. To hit it close or even go in the hole, it just kind of jump starts your round and kind of gets you in a nice flow, which I then kept up for the rest of the day. That was a nice eagle.”

Gal missed most of the month of April as she dealt with a back injury and hasn’t been able to find much success since her return, her best finish coming at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in June where she was T-4 for the week.

Chella Choi contended in this event in 2014, finishing in a T-5 before struggling last season to a T-67 finish when conditions were incredibly windy and tough which resulted in the highest winning total of the 2015 season. But, the conditions were much easier to navigate on Thursday said Choi, who posted a four-under par, 68 to sit three-back of the lead.

“I played so well the first year, and last year is not good. But this tournament, I like this golf course, because the shape is very good and condition is very good, but green is a little bit slow,” Choi told the media. “Last year, conditions are more harder because if I hit the green, always over. But this year, like if I hit the green, it stops, my ball. It's easier than last year. It's more easier because last year very difficult.”

The 2009 rookie has four top-10 finishes this season and won her first event on Tour last season at the Marathon LPGA Classic where she defeated Ha Na Jang in a playoff.

 

Click here for complete scores from round one of the Blue Bay LPGA.

 

Written By: Amy Rogers

 

Photo Credit: 2015 Hunter Martin

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