In Gee Chun and Sung Hyun Park turned in dominant first rounds of the 2016 Evian Championship at the Evian Resort Golf Club in Evian-les-Bains, France, on Thursday and lead the rest of the field after they each shot an eight-under 63.
They are one stroke clear of Shanshan Feng and Annie Park at the LPGA's fifth and final major of the year thanks largely to head-turning finishing stretches. Chun birdied six of her final nine holes, including three of the last four, while Sung Hyun Park birdied five of her last nine holes.
Here is a look at Thursday's best performers. The full leaderboard is available at the tournament's official website:
|2016 Evian Championship Leaderboard|
|T1||In Gee Chun||-8|
|T1||Sung Hyun Park||-8|
|T6||So Yeon Ryu||-5|
|T8||Jin Young Ko||-3|
|T8||Xi Yu Lin||-3|
Chun was steady throughout her round. She started on the back nine and notched two birdies and seven pars and remained within striking distance of the top of the leaderboard. She then made her charge, finishing on the front nine with birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 9.
Chun was particularly impressive on the four par fives with three birdies and a par.
It wasn't just her birdies that carried her on Thursday. She didn't tally a single bogey, which helped her sustain momentum and jump out to the initial lead. Her approach shots proved to be a major difference in helping her remain bogey-free, and the LPGA illustrated she found all 18 greens in regulation:
The LPGA also passed along highlights from Chun's opening round:
As for Sung Hyun Park, she checked in at three-under par through nine holes and looked as if she would settle into a solid position somewhere in the top 10. However, she turned it on in the back nine and climbed the leaderboard with birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 13. She then finished with a flurry with birdies on Nos. 16 and 18 to pull even with Chun.
She is just ahead of Annie Park, who started on the back nine and appeared primed to run away with an early lead.
She birdied Nos. 11 and 12 and then posted an eagle on No. 13 and was suddenly four-under par after four holes. She eventually settled in with five straight pars and then birdied Nos. 1, 5 and 9 to pull within a single stroke of the leaders.
Annie Park is even with Feng, who bogeyed No. 2 but was unstoppable the rest of the way. Feng finished with eight birdies on the round, and they all came in back-to-back fashion. She birdied Nos. 5 and 6, Nos. 9 and 10, Nos. 12 and 13, and Nos. 16 and 17. The Evian Championship shared her impressive birdie putt on No. 17:
Elsewhere, Lydia Ko is the top-ranked player in the world and also "won her first major last year at Evian when she became the first LPGA major champion to shoot 63 on the final day," per Dennis Manoloff of the Plain Dealer. She was not that dominant on Thursday and posted a one-under 70 behind two birdies and a bogey.
She stayed fairly level and still has an opportunity to make a move in the coming days. The Evian Championship passed along her beautiful chip on No. 12 that helped her save par:
Ko wasn't the only top-notch player who found herself behind plenty of competitors after Thursday's round. Ariya Jutanugarn is the second-ranked player in the LPGA, but she struggled in the opening round and turned in a two-over 73 for the day.
She would have been in fine position and still within reach of the top of the leaderboard if not for a triple bogey on No. 18. Outside of that setback, Jutanugarn notched three birdies and two bogeys, which would have placed her at one under par. She started on the back nine and bogeyed Nos. 2 and 4 shortly after the triple bogey, but she somewhat salvaged the round with birdies on Nos. 6 and 9.
Jutanugarn and the rest of the field will be chasing Chun and Sung Hyun Park on Friday.
If Chun in particular continues to find the greens in regulation like she did on Thursday, she will have plenty of birdie opportunities. As long as she converts a few of them, she will put the pressure on everyone else just to keep up before moving day on Saturday.
Look for her to do just that considering she is second in the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation, per LPGA.com.
Chun discussed her round, per Amy Rogers of LPGA.com: "Before the round I felt really nervous today, and it was windy, and there was a thunderstorm this morning, so I tried more focus on my game. I could see the putting lines very well, and I was so good rolling the ball on those lines."
Annie Park talked about her mindset for this tournament, via the Evian Championship:
It may take that type of relaxed approach to surpass Chun and Sung Hyun Park.