Ko battles back after poor start to defence

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 17:45 31/01/2014
Lydia Ko
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
GOOD ROUND: After a poor opening nine holes, Lydia Ko has battled back to finish at -3 after her first round.

Lydia Ko

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A little-known Australia-based Kiwi has taken a share of the lead after the first round of the New Zealand Women's Open at Clearwater in Christchurch today.

Stacey Tate, who played amateur golf in New Zealand before moving to the United States and then Australia, carded a four-under par 68 in the afternoon to grab a share of the lead with South Korean Seon Woo Bae.

Tate, 29, who started on the 10th tee, was on fire at the start of her back nine - the easier front nine on the card - with five successive birdies from holes Nos 1 to 5. She added another at the par-four seventh to get to six-under but missed short par-putts at No 8 and No 9 to fall back to four-under.

Tate was a New Zealand amateur rep but she moved to the States to attend college in 2004 and after a couple of years on the US second-tier pro tour following college she gave up the game.

This is just her first season back as a pro, and she was so off the radar today that she was even introduced on the first tee as an Australian.

Bae and Tate lead by one from Lydia Ko, England's rising star Charley Hull, South Korean Hyeji Lee, Australian Sarah-Jane Smith and Frenchwoman Alexandra Vilatte, who are in a tie for third at three-under.

A sizzling back nine, including a crowd-rousing chip-in on her final hole, catapulted Ko right into contention after the first round.

A dreary front nine of two-over 38, including three bogeys, left the tournament's drawcard and overwhelming favourite six shots off the pace and in danger of falling too far back.

But the 16-year-old Kiwi golfing star flicked the switch coming home, with five birdies to card a three-under 69 and sit just one shot off the pace in the 54-hole Ladies European Tour-ALPG Tour event, which has a prize purse of $332,000.

"The back nine was definitely the highlight, especially chipping in on the last hole," Ko said.

"I didn't give myself many opportunities on my front nine and I wasn't hitting it well, but then I got warmed up." She had "no idea" as to why she made such a marked turnaround on her back nine.

"I chipped in close for a tap-in birdie on No 2 and hit it close on No 3, and I tried to stay confident with my putting," Ko said.

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"I had to hole some good six-footers for par and I was pretty happy with the putting side of my game.

"I'm close [to the lead] and I think I'm in a good position right now." Starting on the 10th tee, Ko made a simple birdie at the opening par-five to set her on her way.

But mistakes crept in, with bogeys at the par-four 12th, par-five 14th and par-four 15th.

She left approach shots short and overhit chips, leaving too much work to save par.

She walked off the 18th green at two-over after six shots off the lead.

But things got going on the back nine.

Ko made a nice chip and putt for a birdie on the par-five second, then stuffed her approach close on the par-four third which set up successive birdies and got her back to even-par.

A clutch seven-foot putt for par followed at the par-three fourth before another chip and putt for birdie at the shortish par-five sixth.

Pars followed at No 6 and No 7 before the world No 4 and defending champion came alive.

She faded a beautiful nine-iron to about two feet on the water-lined par-four eighth, much to the delight of nearby construction workers, and closed with back-to-back birdies when she chipped in for a birdie two on the par-three ninth, her final hole of the day, which brought a loud cheer from the big gallery.

Bae had two birdies and two bogeys on her front nine, having teed off on the 10th, but came home with four birdies on the easier side of the course to shoot a 68.

Hull, playing with Ko, also had six birdies and three bogeys. The 17-year-old from England who had a tremendous year in her rookie LET season is nicely poised for the weekend.

Northland pro Caroline Bon is the next best of the Kiwis, tied for 18th at one-under.

Auckland left-hander Cathryn Bristow was at three-under with two holes to play but bogeyed the 17th and found the water on No 18 to finish with a double-bogey and an even-par 72, which puts her in a share of 29th.

- Fairfax Media

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