NORTH PLAINS, Ore. (AP) — Na Yeon Choi’s opening round at the LPGA Safeway Classic was made all the better by her best friend.
Choi had a 6-under 65 Friday to take a two-stroke lead over Grace Park going into Saturday’s second round at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club west of Portland.
Choi teed off in a threesome with fellow South Korean Song-Hee Kim, who has been her pal since she was 11. The two at times have shared a coach and trained together in Florida.
“I know she’s my best friend, I think we really know each other, so I was very comfortable to play with her,” Choi said.
Choi’s round was marked by a personal-best string of seven straight birdies, but it was marred by a double-bogey on the par-4 No. 18.
“I’d like to go back to the 18th hole, really,” she said.
Choi was helped by an early tee time on the club’s par-71 Ghost Creek course. Golfers who got later starts were hampered by breezy conditions.
Choi, winner of last season’s Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, was a runner-up when Ai Miyazato of Japan won last year’s Safeway Classic, besting Choi and Cristie Kerr by two shots.
Park, who has withdrawn or been cut in 38 of her last 67 tournaments, was two strokes back with a 67, while Se Ri Pak, Anna Nordqvist, M.J. Hur and Ashli Bunch shot 68s.
Park has been beset by injuries over the past six years, from her neck to her back to her hip. She had back surgery one year ago, and the year before that, hip surgery.
“In the past that was my excuse and that was the truth,” Park said. “But right now I’m healthy as I’ve been in 10 years. And yeah, knock on wood.”
Park has entered nine events this year, but she has not made the cut in six of them, including her last two, the Evian Masters and the Women’s British Open.
Park joked that her opening round was solid, not spectacular.
“Nothing fantastic, but it was kind of boring golf,” she said. “I hit a lot of fairways, lot of greens, lot of good putts.”
Miyazato is again in the 150-player field for the tournament’s 40th anniversary in the Portland area. So is world No. 1 Yani Tseng, who won this year’s British Open for her fifth career major.
Miyazato shot a 70 Friday and Tseng opened with a 72 in the 54-hole event that concludes Sunday.
Kerr, ranked third in the world, won the Safeway Classic in 2008 when it was still at Columbia Edgewater Country Club near Portland International Airport. She shot a 73 in the opening round.
Michele Redman, who in 2009 tied for second in the Safeway Classic, is playing her last Tour event this weekend before taking over as the women’s golf coach at the University of Minnesota. She had a 79.
Kim did not fare as well as her best friend Choi, shooting a 71.
The tournament, now the longest-running non-major LPGA event, was first played in 1972 at Portland Golf Club. Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth won the first year.
The Tournament Golf Foundation, which puts on the Safeway Classic, on Friday honored Margaret Maves, who has volunteered at the tournament each year since its inception.