By Rachel Cohen
The Associated Press
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Ha-Neul Kim saw friend Inbee Park after the world’s top-ranked player took the lead in the morning session at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Kim, with an afternoon tee time playing the major for the first time, wondered, “Wow, how did she shoot that score?”
Then Kim went out Thursday and shot one stroke better, finishing with a bogey-free, 6-under 66 to take the first-round lead at Sebonack.
Park is trying to make history by winning the first three majors of the year. For a day at least, she was upstaged by a much less-heralded fellow South Korean.
“I’m enjoying myself,” Kim said through a translator. “I’m just happy to be here and to be playing in this big event. I’m not really thinking about winning or results but enjoying the moment.”
Currently a member of the KLPGA Tour, Kim is a seven-time winner in South Korea. She kept giving herself short birdie putts Thursday and making them.
Kim birdied her second-to-last hole with daylight waning to claim the lead after Park held it for most of the day with her 67 in the morning session.
No player has won the first three majors in a season with at least four majors. The 2008 U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park has already won five times this year, including her last two tournaments.
American Lizette Salas, Swedes Caroline Hedwall and Anna Nordqvist and South Korea’s I.K. Kim shot 68.
Concerned about bad weather, tournament officials moved up the tees, and with the rain holding off, Park was able to play aggressively.
“I never had practiced from those tees, so I was a little bit shocked when I went to the tees,” Park said.
Not that she was complaining.
She repeatedly set up short putts, and the way she has excelled in her short game lately, Park was headed to a low score.
“So instead of hitting like 5-irons, we were hitting 9-irons, and that was making the course much easier,” she said. “I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. I made a lot of putts and didn’t leave much out there.”
Starting on No. 10, Park birdied her first hole, then started racking up pars. She made the turn at 2 under before birdies on three of her next four holes.
At 5 under, Park briefly struggled with her tee shots, needing to save par on Nos. 5 and 7. On No. 6, her 15th hole of the day, she had to lay up out of the tall grass and settled for her lone bogey.
Park got back to 5 under on the par-5 eighth with a chip shot to about 5 feet that set up a birdie putt.
Hedwall and I.K. Kim were each at 5 under with a hole left, but closed with bogeys. Nordqvist birdied her last two holes to pull into the tie for third.
The two Swedes grew up playing together.
“Certainly seeing her shooting 4 under in the morning session gave me a little bit of inspiration for the afternoon,” Nordqvist said.
Salas, a 23-year-old former Southern California star, played with Park in the last group of the final round of this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship.