Birdie flourish sees Lee-Anne Pace secure surprise early lead at Women’s PGA Championship

Birdie flourish sees Lee-Anne Pace secure surprise early lead at Women’s PGA Championship
South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace took a one-shot lead after the first round of the Women’s PGA Championship. ‘I honestly did not expect to be leading the tournament after day one. It’s a very, very difficult golf course,’ the veteran golfer said. Photo: Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Veteran SA golfer Lee-Anne Pace finished the opening round at the top of the leaderboard at the second women’s major of the season.

Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa closed with four birdies over her final eight holes and took the outright lead of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship with a five-under 66 on Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey.

Xiyu Lin and Ruoning Yin of China and Canada’s Brooke Henderson were in a tie for second place at four-under in the second women’s major of 2023.

Pace, 42, was at one-under at the turn before beginning her string of birdies at the par-four 11th hole, then matching it at the par-three 12th. In a four-way tie for the lead heading into her final hole of the first round, Pace then birdied the par-five 18th.

Pace, ranked No 193 in the world, did not think anyone would post a 66 — let alone her — after the course played tough throughout the morning.

“I honestly did not expect to be leading the tournament after day one,” Pace said. “It’s a very, very difficult golf course. To be in my position, I’m just really happy that I had a good score.”

Pace’s best finish in a major was a tie for sixth at the 2015 Evian Championship.

Fellow South Africa Ashleigh Buhai, winner on the LPGA two weeks ago, posted a two over 73 while compatriot Paula Reto returned an even-par 71.

Lee-Anne Pace

Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa leads the women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol GC after the first round. (Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Chasing third major

Henderson, who won the 2016 Women’s PGA Championship, started on the back nine with two birdies and a bogey before she closed strong with birdies at the first, sixth and her final hole of the day, the par-three ninth.

Henderson is vying for her third career major after winning last year’s Evian Championship.

“I love this event. I need more of this event,” Henderson said. “But I think it’s really demanding on all parts of your game, and I think coming into the week I’m prepared for that, knowing that it’s going to demand a lot.”

Lin had a pair of birdies on each side and no bogeys during her opening round. She had a birdie on the par-four 13th hole and the par-five 17th hole to finish off her 67. Lin’s best finish in a major was a tie for seventh in the 2021 US Women’s Open.

“Bogey-free is phenomenal, but I don’t think it comes from, ‘I hit every shot great and I putt every ball great,’” Lin said. “I definitely have to save lots of good pars and some hard tee shots, some shots from the bunkers, some shots from the rough. I’m very glad I deal with this whole thing with lots of patience and do it pretty smart.”

Yin, 20, started on the back nine and reached the midway point of her round with a birdie at No 17 and an eagle at the par-five 18th hole.

Wichanee Meechai of Thailand was alone in fifth place at three-under 68. Meechai has yet to record a top-10 finish in a major.

Leona Maguire of Ireland, Ayaka Furue of Japan and LPGA rookie Celine Borge of Norway finished the morning wave with a share of the lead at two-under 69 before the afternoon players passed them. Major champion Yuka Saso of Japan, Jenny Shin of South Korea and Esther Henseleit of Germany later joined the group at 69.

Rose Zhang, the 20-year-old former amateur phenom who won her first start as a professional last month, shot a one-under 70 in her first major round since turning pro. Zhang recovered from two early bogeys.

World No 1  Jin Young Ko of South Korea opened with a one-over 72. World No 2 Nelly Korda struggled to a five-over 76 in her first start after taking more than a month off to deal with back pain. Reuters/DM


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