Lydia Ko stalks New Zealand Open leader

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013
Lydia Ko
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
SATISFIED: Lydia Ko and caddie Mike Henderson walk from the 18th green after her round of two-under 70 at Clearwater.

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New Zealand golf star Lydia Ko proved her small shoulders are more than capable of carrying the weight of expectation.

Despite a rare off day with the putter yesterday, the 15-year-old schoolgirl sits just one shot behind the leaders after the New Zealand Open's opening round, at Clearwater.

It could have been so much better for the World No 1 amateur, who had as many 300 people following her, making her easily the most popular player on the course.

She missed plenty of sinkable putts and was forced to watch as a number caught the hole's edge and stayed out.

"To me, if it didn't go in, I'd rather it didn't even go near the hole, but lipouts . . . for it being so close, that gets me more annoyed."

But with Clearwater's infamous wind getting up early yesterday, and her putter cold, Ko was rightly pleased to be in the red and in contention after posting a two-under 70.

Her three-bogey, five-birdie round left her one off her goal.

"My goal was three under so I was one off," she said. "[But] we didn't expect this sort of wind."

Ko said her putting was "OK" and the fact she still shot under par, while leaving plenty of putts out there, was a small consolation.

"I guess so, there's still obviously work to do. I didn't putt horribly. [But] a couple more practice putts and, hopefully, I get there in the end."

With all the hype surrounding Ko at this tournament and the fact she was paired with world No 19 Angela Stanford and European No 1 Carlota Ciganda, there was a fear the occasion would get to the 15-year-old.

There needn't have been; she outplayed both comfortably. Stanford, who has 10 top 10 finishes in women's majors, shot a disappointing six-over 78 while a triple bogey on 16 left Ciganda at two-over par.

Ko played down the fact she outgunned two of the top players in the field: "I just play my own game. I don't really think about what they're doing."

Australians Nikki Campbell, Tamara John and Sarah Oh all lead the tournament after firing three-under 69s in the morning.

Johns birdied her opening hole, the 10th and doubled the 11th, but was far more consistent from then on and the world No 649 clearly benefited from a tweak to her game.

"I am feeling good about my chances this week. The work I have done on the range has really helped my confidence," she said.

"I worked on a few things on the range this week because I didn't play great last week in Queensland. I just spoke to my partner about a few things on Skype and he gave me stuff to work on and once we did that it seemed to turn around."

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Like Ko, Campbell was pleased to play so well in the wind.

The world No 152 was chuffed to be in the lead, but has played too much golf to get carried away on the back of first round lead.

She hit the ball well from tee to green all day, but paid the price for a couple of three putts.

"It is a good thing to shoot a good score with the winds up. Hopefully [this afternoon] it will help me get used to some of the conditions."

The shot of the day went to Sweden's Karin Sjodin who dropped shots on 14 and 15, but holed out on the 146m par-three 16th for a hole-in-one to get back to even par before signing for a 76.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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