Japan's Mamiko Higa, feeding off encouragement from her sumo-wrestler fiancé, sizzled on her US Women's Open debut, wielding a hot putter to take the clubhouse lead with a six-under-par 65 on Thursday.
Higa, one of 13 Japanese players in the field, did not have a blemish in her six-birdie performance – a record low round on debut at the championship.
It earned her a one-shot lead over German qualifier Esther Henseleit and American amateur Gina Kim.
West Australian World No.2 Minjee Lee, one of the pre-tournament favourites, posted an even-par 71 to sit in a group six shots behind Higa.
Lee, a winner at the recent LA Open, heads the Australian cast in the field and is joined by Katherine Kirk (73), Su Oh (75), amateur Gabriela Ruffels (75), Hannah Green (76), Sarah Kemp (76) and two-time winner Karrie Webb (77).
RIGHT: Minjee Lee is the best-placed Australian, six shots behind the leading Higa. PHOTO: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.
Higa and her fiancé Ikioi Shota are a celebrity couple in Japan, where Shota is a successful professional sumo wrestler.
Big things have been expected of Higa since she twice won the Japan amateur championship before turning pro in 2012.
She has accrued five Japan LPGA Tour victories, and last year made her mark on the international stage by finishing equal fourth at the Women's British Open.
While Higa, Henseleit and Kim had no trouble coping with demanding greens and a testing morning breeze, some of the other pre-championship favourites were slow out of the starting gate.
World No.1 Jin Young Ko bogied four of her first 10 holes en route to a one-over 72 – the same score as defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn, who birdied her final two holes.
- Andrew Both, Reuters