Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko was at it again on Thursday at Aviara Golf Club, firing her 16th consecutive round in the 60s in the opening round of the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol. The Korean’s bogey-free, 7-under 65 was highlighted by three birdies in a row on Nos. 7, 8 and 9, and saw Ko hit 11 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens. She needed just 29 putts to get the job done today and was pleased with that number considering how tricky Aviara’s Poa annua putting surfaces can be.
“I'm just trying to hit 60s today,” said the 26-year-old who led the Tour in greens in regulation heading into this week at 83.33%. “These greens are really tricky so I didn't expect good putting or to make a lot of putts on these greens but I made a lot of birdies today and had a bogey-free round. It's pretty good so far.”
With the year’s first major on tap next week, Ko felt it was important to tee it up in Carlsbad, Calif. to prepare for the Chevron Championship. Though she’s in good form – Jin Young nabbed her 13th career victory earlier this month at the HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore – Ko still thinks her best golf is ahead of her, hungry for more victories and chasing even more success in 2022.
“My mental game is strong right now,” said Ko. “Swing and putting, not bad, but not good. Going to a major, there’s a lot of pressure on all the players, so we have to fight with nervous emotion. But my mental game is strong right now after Singapore. I'm doing well but many people say 2019 was my career high. But I think no, not yet. So in 2021, I played well, but not yet. It's not coming yet. Even this year, too. So I need to win more and I want to win more. But I have to focus on myself if I want to really get the wins.”
Sitting in solo second is the most recent Rolex First-Time Winner Nanna Koerstz Madsen who carded a stellar 6-under, 66, the lowest score of the afternoon wave. Posting an eagle and five birdies, Koerstz Madsen needed only 25 putts in the opening round and it was that clutch short game that made up for the spotty driving that plagued Nanna on Thursday.
“I'm very pleased with the score,” she said. “I think I only hit four fairways. I wasn’t really struggling off the tee, was just in the first cut, but on these greens sometimes it can be hard coming from the rough. I made some good putts out there, which I maybe wasn't expecting only having 25 putts today, but it was good.”
A trio of players are tied for third at -5 with Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh, Republic of Korea’s Hye-Jin Choi and American Cheyenne Knight all firing matching 67s to kick off the sixth event of the season. Knight took some time off ahead of the JTBC Classic and taking that time to reset appears to be paying dividends so far as she turns her attention to the meat of the 2022 season. “I feel like my game has been in a good spot for a little bit and I'm excited to tee it up again,” she said, who finished T11 at the LPGA Drive On Championship in February. “I took a lot of positives from Fort Myers and, you know, that break at home. I'm not going to have a break like that in a long time, until the off-season, so I just tried to enjoy it as much as possible.”
Five players at -4 round out the top 10 through 18 holes, including California native Mo Martin, University of California Los Angeles alum Ryann O’Toole and Carlsbad’s hometown hero Alana Uriell. Defending champion Inbee Park posted a 1-under 71 and currently sits T42.