Lydia Ko and Pajaree Anannarukarn fired rounds of 64 (-8) to be tied at the top of the leaderboard on the first day of the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund.
On a windy day at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, it was the morning wave who had the better of the conditions and were able to shoot the lower scores.
World number one Ko began her day on the 10th tee, and it was a flawless day as she rolled in eight birdies for a bogey-free round.
“I knew that between today and tomorrow that today was the day to take advantage of the calmer conditions,” said the 2021 champion.
“When I came here in November the wind picked up in the afternoon. At this time of the year and with the forecast, it’s only going to be stronger and probably some of the strongest winds I’ve seen out here.
“I knew that today with some of the pin positions I needed to be a little bit more aggressive. All in all, I putted really well out there. Most of the opportunities I had I was able to take advantage of that, it was that kind of a day and a nice start to the season. It’s cool to see I have an officially under-par round as a Mrs.”
The New Zealander rolled in four birdies on her front and four birdies on her back nine to pick up where she left off in 2021.
And the two-time Major champion felt she was able to take advantage of the calmer conditions, while also being very pleased with her putting.
She explained: “I think there are plenty of holes, especially when the wind is calmer, that you can reach a couple of par-fives and be a little bit more aggressive to pin positions.
“The wind is such a big factor on this golf course, so when it’s playing to your advantage you kind of want to use that.
“I felt really confident with the putter today, so that when I didn’t hit the green I wasn’t too stressed about it and felt like I could make up and down.”
Thailand’s Anannarukarn also had an excellent start to the week on her first trip to Royal Greens to be tied alongside Ko after day one.
The 2021 ISPS Handa World Invitational champion started her round with four consecutive birdies before dropping a shot on 17.
One eagle, four birdies and a bogey on her back nine, which was the front nine, ensured Anannarukarn’s place at the top of the standings on eight-under-par.
“I was actually really in the zone starting off since the first hole,” said the 23-year-old. “I did not expect the first birdie. It was about an eight-yard putt for birdie, and I made a really good stroke there.
“I just kept a really good momentum going forward, so I made four straight birdies and just had a really good start. Then I really came in there and try to play one shot at a time.
“My putting was the strongest part. I really tried to get the speed good enough, and it turned out great today. I’m really grateful for that.
“Playing in the morning wave, especially my first time here, I know a lot of players said it gets really windy in the afternoon. I played the practice round in the afternoon and it was really windy, so obviously I was just trying to go low if I could.”
Three players are in a share of third place with Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul, India’s Aditi Ashok and Korea’s Jung Min Hong all on seven-under-par.
It was a good start for 2021 Race to Costa del Sol champion Thitikul, who finished as runner-up here behind Ko a couple of years ago.
“It’s a really good start to the 2023 season,” said the four-time LET winner. “I had a really good round with Lydia [Ko] and Charley [Hull] – as did Lydia. It reminded me of the final round two years ago.
“It’s nice to play in the morning because it’s always windy in the afternoon, so we’ll see how tomorrow goes.
“My coach told me it’s not changing my swinging, it’s adding something, but it is a little change. We were just working on the weight distribution as I think he wants me to hit farther but also to stay accurate, so we’re just trying to keep it on track.”
While 2023 Race to Costa del Sol leader Ashok continued her phenomenal form this year with a bogey-free 65 to start the week at Royal Greens.
“Today was a good day,” said the 2023 Magical Kenya Ladies Open champion. “I think early on I hit a couple bad drives, but I managed to save par on those holes.
“I knew it was one of those days, that even if you don’t hit a good shot things were working out for me today, so glad I was able to capitalize on that.
“I think two months off and practicing a lot compared to how much I would’ve practiced if I was in season has helped with the start to the year. I have played here three times before, I know the golf course a little bit, and maybe that familiarity helps me feel comfortable here.”
Korea’s HeeJeong Lim and Mexico’s Gaby Lopez sit in a tie for sixth place on six-under-par and five players are one shot further back in T8 including America’s Lilia Vu, Korean pair Hyo-Joo Kim and Hae Ran Ryu as well as French duo Pauline Roussin and Celine Boutier.