(The Sports Xchange) – Sarah Jane Smith and Peiyun Chien posted 6-under 66s Thursday in the first round of the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.
Smith and Chien are both seeking for their first LPGA victories and completed bogey-free rounds at Tiburon Golf Club.
Smith carded the lowest round of her career. The 33-year-old Australian opened with five straight pars but began moving toward the lead by hitting an eagle at the par-5 sixth hole.
“I holed some nice putts,” Smith said. “It was a bit rough in the beginning, but (I) holed some nice putts for par and sort of kept it going, and then made some good birdies coming in.”
Smith has only missed four cuts but also struggled in the latter rounds of tournaments, finishing with two top-10 finishes. She is optimistic something in her swing can help her get a tournament victory.
“I’ve been working on a little bit more tempo in my swing, I can get really fast out there,” Smith said. “I sort of made a conscious effort a few weeks ago to sort of do it on the golf course and it’s made a huge difference.”
Chien, a 27-year-old rookie from Chinese Taipei, finished with the second-lowest round of career. Her lowest round was the opening round 64 at the Marathon Classic when she finished third for her only top-10 finish on the LPGA tour.
“Just need to believe in myself,” Chien said. “I change a little (on my) backswing so (I) feel a little bit more solid.”
Smith and Chien hold a one-stroke lead over Suzann Petterson, Karine Icher, Lydia Ko, Azahara Munoz and Sung Hyun Park.
Park hit a pair of birdies on the closing stretch. She only needs to win the final LPGA event to win the CME Race to the Globe and the $1 million bonus.
Park is trying to become the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to all the major awards. She already won rookie of the year.
Ko, who is seeking her first victory in 35 events, made a 15-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th and then made par with a shot from the bunker on the final hole.
Lexi Thompson, who leads the Race to the CME Globe, finished with a 1-under 71, putting her five strokes behind the leaders.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll)