Toledo, Ohio — Danielle Kang went more than six months without competing and looked as though she had never been away, playing bogey-free at Inverness Club for a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead in the LPGA Drive On Championship.
The LPGA Tour’s much-awaited return from the COVID-19 pandemic brought an immediate sense of its new world. Kang had no idea where she stood after a closing birdie.
“There aren’t any leaderboards on the golf course,” Kang said.
Inverness, where Paul Azinger beat Greg Norman in a playoff at the 1993 PGA Championship, is hosting the Solheim Cup next year and offered to stage the first event back for the LPGA Tour since the Women’s Australian Open on Feb. 16. The LPGA Tour remains in northeast Ohio next week before heading to Scotland.
Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England also played bogey-free for a 67. Celine Boutier of France and Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa also were at 5 under until both made bogey on the closing hole. They settled for a 68.
The foremost global tour in golf attracted 130 players from some 30 countries, though it was missing the leading stars from powerhouse South Korea. Jin Young Ko, the No. 1 player in the world, and Sung Hyun Park have stayed home and are playing on the Korean LPGA. Neither is expected to travel to Scotland for the Women’s British Open in three weeks.
The lone Korean among the top 10 — a rarity given the country’s strength in women’s golf — was Hee Young Park at 70.
Kang, a former Women’s PGA champion, paid particular attention to the speed of the greens at Inverness, making six birdies and a number of key par putts to keep her round going.
“Even if you hit a good shot, it’s not an easy putt,” Kang said. “I almost three-putted from 9 feet. Definitely had a really good attitude, and it was really fun to be back.”
The LPGA Tour is not allowing spectators, though that wasn’t a problem for Kang. She was more concerned about her etiquette with two other players, different from a more casual attitude at home. Kang played only twice at the start of the year in the Florida events, including a third-place finish Jan. 23 at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.
The field attracted four of the top 10 from the world ranking, and Kang (No. 4) Minjee Lee of Australia (No. 8) were the only ones to break par. Lee shot 69.
Nelly Korda, the highest-ranked player at No. 2 in the world, opened with two birdies in three holes and closed with another birdie. It was the part in between that cost her, and she had a 76. Lexi Thompson, who has slipped to No. 9, opened with a 73.
For most of them, it was simply good to be back.
Lydia Ko made a long birdie to close out her round of 69, joining Lee and Amy Olson.
“I saw some of the girls and I was like, ‘Man, it’s nice to not see you through a virtual app or on social media,’” Ko said.
Todd tops WGC leaderboard
Brendon Todd’s putter is more than making up for any lack of power off the tee at the World Golf Championship.
Todd shot a 5-under 65 and grabbed a two-stroke lead through 36 holes of the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
“I have not hit the ball as crisply the first two days and maybe some other tournaments this year, but I’ve probably putted the best of any tournament this year so far,” Todd said. “I’m really excited about how I played and looking forward to the opportunity this weekend.”
Todd trailed defending champion Brooks Koepka after the first round by two strokes. He quickly erased that deficit and took the lead to himself with a bogey-free, five-birdie round for a 129 total at the World Golf Championships event at TPC Southwind.
Rickie Fowler closed with birdies on his final two holes for a 67 and 131 total just behind Todd thanks to his own putter.
Koepka had the lead to himself at 10 under before falling apart on his back nine with a double-bogey and two bogeys. He finished with a 71, his first time over par at this course in seven rounds. He was four strokes back, tied with Byeong Hun An (65) and Chez Reavie (67).
Jon Rahm shot a 74 and now is 4 over in his first event as No. 1 in the world.
Justin Thomas, who could go back to No. 1 in the world with a win, was seven strokes back after a 70. Rory McIlroy’s bid to be No. 1 again may have to wait until the PGA championship next week. He shot a 66, but is 10 strokes back.
Stanley soars at Barracuda
Kyle Stanley had another eagle in a 14-point round to take the lead into the weekend in the Barracuda Championship, the PGA Tour’s lone modified Stableford scoring event.
Stanley had a 22-point total for a two-stroke lead over Matthias Schwab, Robert Streb and Branden Grace in high altitude at Tahoe Mountain Club's Old Greenwood Course. Players receive 8 points for albatross, 5 for eagle, 2 for birdie, zero for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for double bogey or worse.
“Actually, I’m not sure what I shot,” said Stanley, who had a 5-under 66.. “It’s kind of the weird, the format out here. You’re kind of focusing more on points than you are what your score is. But I had another eagle today, which was nice. I had one yesterday. That really helped my point total.”
Stanley eagled the par-5 12th a day after accomplishing the feat on the par-5 sixth. He also had six birdies and two bogeys in his afternoon round Friday. The 32-year-old is trying to win for the third time on the tour after breaking through in the 2012 Phoenix Open and taking the 2017 Quicken Loans National.
Tahoe Mountain is staging the event for the first time after 21 years across the border in Nevada at Montreux Golf and Country Club.