TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Ji Eun-hee took a one-stroke lead over Lydia Ko on Friday in the LPGA Taiwan Championship, overcoming back pain and a double bogey in windy and rainy conditions.
The 29-year-old South Korean player finished with a 3-under 69 to reach 9-under 135 at Miramar. She made the double bogey on the par-5 sixth after hitting hooking her drive out of bounds, rallied with birdies on Nos. 9-11 and closed with seven straight pars.
”I hurt my middle back this morning,” Ji said. ”Just bothering me on my swing, and especially with my driver.”
The second-ranked Ko birdied the par-5 18th for a 67.
”It’s always good to finish on a birdie,” Ko said. ”I’ve just got to keep my head high. Especially with the weather conditions, anything can happen.”
The 18-year-old New Zealander is trying to regain the No. 1 spot in the world from South Korea’s Inbee Park, the winner last year at Miramar. Park is skipping her title defense to play in a Korea LPGA event, where she dropped into a tie for seventh Friday.
Ko won the Evian Championship in France last month to become the youngest major champion and has three other LPGA Tour victories this year. She won the 2013 Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters at Miramar for her first victory as a professional.
Ji won the 2008 LPGA Championship and 2009 U.S. Women’s Open, both majors, for her lone LPGA Tour titles.
”The weather is going to be like this tomorrow and the day after, so trying to be patient every day and just focus on my play,” Ji said. ”The greens are going to be softer, so that makes a little easier, actually.”
England’s Charley Hull and China’s Lin Xi-yu, both 19, were tied for third at 7 under. Hull shot a 69, and Lin had a 70. Hull saved par on 16 and bogey on 17 with 5-foot putts, then missed a 5-footer for birdie on 18.
”A shame I didn’t birdie the last, bogeyed 17,” Hull said. ”But I was plugged in the bunker on 17 and I made a good up-and-down, so it wasn’t too bad.”
She’s right at home in the tough conditions.
”I quite like it like this. It’s been fun,” Hull said. ”It’s a bit rainy, so it’s a bit like a British Open, but obviously a lot warmer. … I just love playing in the wind.”
South Koreans So Yeon Ryu (69) and Sun Young Yoo (71) were 5 under. Norway’s Suzann Pettersen followed her opening 74 with a 66 – the best round of the day – to move into a tie for seventh at 4 under. She won the event in 2012 and 2013 at Sunrise.
American Morgan Pressel and Germany’s Sandra Gal, tied for third after opening rounds of 68, dropped off the leaderboard. Pressel had a 75 to fall into a tie for 16th at 1 under, and Gal was tied for 36th at 2 over after a 78.
Taiwanese star Yani Tseng was tied for 32nd at 1 over after a 73. She won the inaugural event in 2011 at Sunrise.
Third-ranked Stacy Lewis was tied for 55th at 5 over after a 72. She opened with a 77, her worst score since a 78 in the final round of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open. The American finished second last year at Miramar.
The tournament is third in the five-event Asian Swing. The Blue Bay LPGA is next week in China, followed by the Japan Classic.