LIV Golf: ‘I’ve made it through,’ says Anthony Kim on return from decade of despair

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NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nevada: Sei Young Kim took advantage of ideal playing conditions Wednesday, shooting a 6-under 66 in the opening round of the T-Mobile Match Play.

Las Vegas-area residents Danielle Kang and Rose Zhang, making the best use of not having to go on the road, were each just a stroke behind.

Top-ranked Nelly Korda has some work to do to extend her three-tournament winning streak after shooting a 73. Lorena Ochoa, in 2008, was the last LPGA Tour player to win four in a row.

The top 65 players plus ties after the first two days will advance to the third round Friday, and then the top eight players will compete in match play over the weekend. This tournament was entirely a match-play event its first three years, but the format changed this year and attracted easily the strongest field in its short history.

Scores could be noticeably higher Thursday after players competed in calm conditions with a high in the 80s. Wind with gusts of more than 40 mph will greet the players in the second round, and the forecast high for Friday was for 59 degrees. Highs are expected to be in the 60s over the weekend.

Fifteen players broke par in the first round.

Kim, the 2020 Player of the Year, began strong with birdies on six of her first 10 holes. She answered a bogey on the par-4 14th with a birdie two holes later on a par 5.

“The front nine I didn’t expect I play that well,” Kim said.

Shadow Creek is Kang’s home course, but she isn’t assuming anything this week. She finished in the top five in the world in 2019 and 2020 and in the top 20 the following two years, but Kang announced in 2022 that a tumor was discovered on her spine.

Her ranking dropped to 48th last year and she entered this tournament 59th, so a strong showing this week could get the 31-year-old headed in the right direction.

Kang sounded Wednesday like a player with the perspective of not to reading too much into the result of any round. Kang’s mind after the round was on seeing her trainer, walking her dog and cooking dinner rather than what could happen Thursday.

“Sometimes I don’t even know the point of Thursday, Friday, Saturday unless it’s Sunday,” said Kang, who made abut a 75-foot birdie putt on her final hole. “All I can do is stay in the present and play my game and execute the shots and execute the way I normally do.”

Zhang doesn’t call Shadow Creek home, having played on the course just twice, but she gets to stay home this week.

After becoming the first woman to win college golf’s national championship twice, in 2022 and 2023, she left Stanford last year and then won her first LPGA Tour event. That only increased the already lofty expectations for Zhang.

But Zhang, 20, is still searching for his second victory. Ranked 23rd, maybe that will happen this week. Finishing the first round with four consecutive birdies certainly doesn’t hurt.

“I gave myself many opportunities,” Zhang said. “I was able to kind of pin seek a little bit more. Felt really confident with my irons and I had good yardages coming in. Got a couple putts within five, six feet, within three feet, and that really helped me.”