In a field brimming with LPGA Tour royalty, it is World No.275 Katherine Kirk sitting on the throne at Royal Adelaide after round one.
The Queenslander set the ISPS HANDA Women’s Australian Open alight with a brilliant opening round eight under 65 to lead her nearest pursuers by two strokes.
The two-time LPGA Tour winner capitalised on the calm morning conditions to scorch around the acclaimed Seaton layout bagging eight birdies in a flawless display.
Kirk’s bogey-free round has her two-strokes clear of four players – South Korea’s Chella Choi, Taiwan’s Min Lee and American pair Jane Park and Marissa Steen – and has her thinking of finally winning the Patricia Bridges Bowl.
“I think it would be my best win ever really,” said Kirk (pictured right) when asked what winning an Australian Open would mean to her.
“I mean, as a kid, you dream about winning your own national championship. I’ve won a Canadian Open, that felt pretty good but being Aussie, being at home, in front of my family, obviously, (husband) Tom will come down, I’d be like - I’d probably be bawling my eyes out.
No matter what her form line is going into an Australian Open, Kirk always seems to extract the best from her game at this event – even though it hasn’t yet got her a victory in the Championship. Her best tilt at the title was back in 2010 at Melbourne’s Commonwealth Golf Club when she finished tied fourth behind a fast-finishing Yani Tseng.
Kirk last made a cut on the LPGA Tour in July last year, but you’d be none the wiser watching her navigate her way around the course on day one.
The 34-year-old was consistently flushing shots and riding a hot putter, which was only required 24 times during the round.
Despite the terrific start, Kirk is not getting ahead of herself.
“Lately I’ve probably struggled to put four good rounds together – so that’s going to obviously be the key this week… is to get the next three under par,” Kirk said. “But I feel like I’m hitting it well, I’ve just got to give myself more chances and just stay patient.”
Patience seemed to be the theme of the day, and it certainly rang true for the penultimate group of Lydia Ko, Ha Na Jang and Brooke Henderson – who all broke par, but struggled at times on Royal Adelaide’s greens.
Ko, who carded a two under 71, had a frustrating day with the flat-stick. She gave herself plenty of chances but could only secure four birdies, which were offset by bogies at the 14th and 16th holes.
“I actually struck the ball really well. I hit my drives good, which is really important around a course like this, but the putts just did not drop,” said the World No.1 and 2016 Australian Open runner-up.
Henderson, who finished tied ninth at in her first appearance in this Championship last year, put on a ball-striking clinic.
The 19-year-old (pictured right) was explosive off the tee and had a good following of fans as she fired a four under 69 to grab a share of eighth.
On the eve of the Championship, the Canadian said she had been working on her short game, and it showed. Despite the occasional errant approach shot, she consistently scrambled to make par and finished the round bogey free.
“I made a lot of really good putts early, a couple for birdie and then a couple to save par and those were really important … I miss those and my energy loses a little bit,” Henderson said.
Elsewhere, Karrie Webb struggled to find her rhythm and shot a disappointing 76.
“I just didn’t swing it very well early on and the further I went along the worse it got and then I missed a few shorts putts, which I’d been feeling pretty good with the putter, so that was a bit of a shock to the system,” Webb said.
A tough day was made worse on 18 – her 9th hole – when a poorly timed snap of a camera rattled her during her backswing, and she failed to make par.
The windy conditions of tomorrow’s afternoon tee-time could stand in the way of Webb making the cut. But, when asked whether she’d try to forget today’s round and move on, Webb – in typical fashion – responded: “No, I need to work out what I was doing with my swing.”
The swings of Australia’s Olympians – Minjee Lee and Su Oh – were no such issue, and the 20-year-olds shot 72 and 70 respectively.
Defending champion Haru Nomura dropped five shots but managed to claw her way back to a two over 75, while World No.2 Ariya Jutanugarn had three birdies in her one under 72.
American Michelle Wie introduced her ‘claw’ putting grip for the first time, and was pleased to finish with a three-under par 70.
“It was just a solid round today,” the American said. “It’s fun to make some putts, some long ones… so that was fun.”
When the tee-times switch tomorrow, Kirk will face Royal Adelaide’s customary afternoon winds … the same winds that played havoc with some of the late tee starters on day one.
“The birdies are out there, you’ve just got to keep giving yourself chances,” Kirk said.