Nasa Hataoka of Japan and Ruoning Yin of China shot 9-under-par 63 to forge a tie for the first-round lead at the CME Group Tour Championship on Thursday in Naples, Fla.
Hataoka was the first to touch 9 under and Yin matched her at the end of the afternoon, her final birdie coming at the par-5 17th hole at Tiburon Golf Club. Both players carded nine birdies and no bogeys to kick off the lucrative season finale tournament.
The top 60 players in the Race to the CME Globe standings qualified for the season-ending event, which features the highest winning payout in women’s golf. The champion will take home a $2 million first prize.
Hataoka, 24, is in a terrific position to end her winless drought that dates back to April 2022. She piled up five birdies on the front nine and four more on the back.
“I think the softness of the fairway really helped me,” Hataoka said. “I had a couple shots that went away, but the wetness really helped.”
Yin, the 21-year-old who won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June, followed suit with a three-birdie stretch at Nos. 6-8 helping her to the front-nine 31. She narrowly missed a 10th birdie from long range at the par-4 18th.
Yin — ranked No. 2 in the world — and France’s Celine Boutier are the only players mathematically alive to win the LPGA Player of the Year award.
“I think just because the fairway is wide open, I think as long as my ball is in the fairway I do have the confidence to leave myself a birdie putt,” Yin said.
Minjee Lee of Australia is third with a bogey-free 8-under 64, and Anna Nordqvist of Sweden (65) carded eight birdies and one bogeys to place fourth at 7 under after one round.
Lee rolled in birdies at Nos. 17 and 18 to make her final push late in the day. The two-time major champion, ranked fifth in the world, is in good form after winning last month’s BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea.
“I hit a lot of good shots in today,” Lee said. “Obviously giving myself a lot of birdie opportunities so I didn’t have too many putts that I had to save for par, which is always nice. … Hopefully I can get it going, get it bogey-free for the rest of the week.”
Alison Lee, Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, England’s Georgia Hall, Hye-Jin Choi of South Korea and Yu Liu of China are tied for fifth at 6-under 66. Of that quintet, all but Liu went bogey-free on Thursday.
Jennifer Kupcho, Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand and Xiyu Lin of China shot 5-under 67 to form a tie for 10th. Nelly Korda was part of a large tie at 4-under 68 that also featured Leona Maguire of Ireland, Yuka Saso of Japan and Charley Hull of England.
Boutier, who entered the week No. 1 in the Race to the CME Globe, opened the tournament with a 3-under 69. She had five birdies but hurt herself with a double bogey at the par-4 15th. Vu shot a 2-under 70.
–Field Level Media