Kirk lights up in chase of ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open: round 1 video highlights

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Katherine Kirk made the most of the calmer early morning conditions to lead the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide.

Queenslander Katherine Kirk posted an early-morning eight-under-par 65 and watched the afternoon players struggle in higher winds today, leaving the Australian in charge of her national championship.

An eight-under score with eight birdies and not a single bogey left the 34-year-old from the Sunshine Coast two shots clear after the first round of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, with some of the biggest days of her career ahead.

Kirk, a 14-year professional who has made her living on the LPGA Tour, has been in a lull, sliding outside the top 100 on the money list last year. She has not won a big tournament since 2010.

But she was white hot from the start today when she rammed home three consecutive birdies and carried the momentum to the finish line in pristine, almost breathless conditions rarely seen at Royal Adelaide. She missed just four greens and had only 24 putts, drawing upon her great skill with the short stick.

Like any patriotic Australian, she would love to win here, having had a cluster of top-10 finishes over the years but a best of tied-fourth in 2010 at Commonwealth Golf Club.

“I think it would be my best win ever really,” Kirk said later, when asked what an Australian Open win would mean.

“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 (from the US) … I’d probably be bawling my eyes out.”

Kirk leads by two shots from Americans Jane Park and Marissa Steen, South Korea’s Chella Choi and Taiwan’s Min Lee, the best of the afternoon players at six under. Scotland’s Michele Thomson (67) is a further shot back alongside Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum and American Lizette Salas, the latter pair also among the afternoon field.

Of the bigger names, world No.1 Lydia Ko began rustily with a two-under 71, finishing with a birdie, complaining later that “the putts just would not drop”.

But most of the marquee names were near the top of the leaderboard, including Canada’s Brooke Henderson (-4), and South Korean Ha Na Jang (-3), both world top-10 players.

World No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn played in the tougher conditions and began with a one-under 72 to remain in contention.

Of the other Australians, Hannah Green (69) was the best, but Su Oh joined Sarah Jane Smith at 70 late in the day, but veteran Karrie Webb struggled to a disappointing 74. Minjee Lee and Rebecca Artis are well in the mix after two-under rounds of 71.

Kirk said her challenge now was to put more good rounds together to capitalise.

“I guess lately I’ve probably struggled to put four good rounds together, so that’s going to be obviously the key this week, is to get the next three under par. But I feel like I’m hitting it well, I’ve just got to give myself more chances and just stay patient. The birdies are out there, you’ve just got to, like I said, keep giving yourself chances.”

Play resumes tomorrow at 7am (Australian Central Daylight Time) at Royal Adelaide, with Jutanugarn at the head of those with morning tee times, due to start off the 10th tee at 7.44am.