SYLVANIA, Ohio — Fresh off her victory at Inverness, Danielle Kang attacked a more receptive golf course Thursday in the Marathon Classic and opened with a 7-under 64 to share the lead with Lydia Ko.
Kang went six months without playing because of the COVID-19 pandemic and said she was eager to compete again. For five rounds in northeast Ohio, it sure looks that way.
Kang, who moved to No. 2 in the world last week by winning, played bogey-free at Highland Meadows. She closed with three birdies over the last four holes.
Ko, the former No. 1 player in women’s golf with only one victory in the last four years, had eight birdies against a lone bogey on the par-3 eighth hole to join Kang in the lead.
They had a one-shot lead over Megan Khang, whose 65 featured a hole-out for eagle on the par-4 fifth hole.
“Six, seven months off, definitely miss the competition,” said Kang, who filled the void with games in Las Vegas involving her brother, Alex, and boyfriend Maverick McNealy, a rookie on the PGA Tour. “Being able to come back here and compete again is what I was most excited about. And I’m just happy to do that.”
The Ohio courses are nothing alike.
Inverness has hosted major championship and will have the Solheim Cup next year. Kang was happy with pars in holding on for a one-shot victory in the LPGA Drive On Championship, a one-time event.
Highland Meadows, which has a history of hosting the LPGA Tour since 1984, is a little shorter and the greens were not quite as firm or treacherous.
“It’s a bit soft, shorter, reachable par 5s,” Kang said “Greens are not as undulated as last week, so it’s a lot of attacking and being aggressive and staying aggressive.”
This would be an ideal place for Ko to break out of her slump. She is a two-time winner of the Marathon Classic, most recently in 2016 when she beat Ariya Jutanugarn and Mirim Lee in a playoff.
“I always love coming here,” she said.
Ko also had a good start last week at Inverness, opening with a 69 until she got caught in the worst of the wind and rain and followed that with an 80. She bounced back with a 71 and tied for 28th.
This is a 72-hole event, and she was more that satisfied with the start, knowing it was just that.
“I think you just got to take it one shot at a time, one round at a time,” Ko said. “Golf is a silly game where one day you feel like everything is going your way, and the next day you’re like, `What am I doing?’ … But I think that’s the great personality of golf itself. It’s nice to start the tournament well.”
She knows Highland Meadows well enough to realize that she’ll need plenty of more birdies. Forty-one out of the 150 players in the field shot in the 60s in the first round.
Nelly Korda had a 67, while Lexi Thompson, who had three bogeys on the front nine, finished with an eagle to break par. She wound up with a 70.