Korea’s Ji leads in Thailand after Ariya’s uneven start

South Korean Eun-hee Ji watches her tee shot on the fourth hole on the way to a two-stroke victory in the 2019 LPGA Tournament of Champions. (AFP pic)

BANGKOK: Ji Eun-hee topped a tight leaderboard after a near-flawless performance on day one of the LPGA Thailand Thursday, as top-ranked home favourite Ariya Jutanugarn was forced to play catch-up.

South Korea’s Ji sank a total of 10 birdies to card nine-under 63 for a two-shot lead, despite an early bogey.

Australia’s world number seven Minjee Lee, American Danielle Kang and South Korean Jenny Shin were close behind with 65s.

The US$1.6 million LPGA-sanctioned tournament is being held at the par-72 Siam Country Club in the beach resort town of Pattaya.

“I hit it really great today,” Ji said in a television interview, adding that tweaks to her swing and putting style have boosted her confidence.

Ji, ranked 25, is gunning for her second title of the year after triumphing in the Tournament of Champions last month.

But the early victory means the “pressure” is off, she said.

Thailand’s world number one Ariya was five shots off the lead with four-under 68.

In a topsy-turvy outing she finished with six birdies, an eagle, two bogeys and a double-bogey on the penultimate hole.

Ariya is also coming off a lacklustre Australian Open, finishing 15 shots adrift of winner Nelly Korda.

American Jessica Korda won last year’s tournament in Thailand but will not be competing this time due to an injury.