Sport Golf Ilhee Lee leads Women’s Australian Open
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Ilhee Lee leads Women’s Australian Open

Ilhee Lee
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So spooked was Ilhee Lee by her first visit to Royal Melbourne in 2012 that she almost gave the Women’s Australian Open a miss this time around.

But a late change of heart paid early dividends for the South Korean, who shot a bogey-free five-under 68 to lead by a stroke from powerhouse Thai teen Ariya Jutanugarn on Thursday.

World No.1 Lydia Ko was looming ominously in a tie for third after opening with a three-under 70 which included an eagle on the par-five 14th.

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The New Zealander was level with Canada’s Alena Sharp and South Korean Min Seo Kwak.

Katherine Kirk and Rebecca Artis (both 72) were the only Australians under the card, while countrywoman Karrie Webb began her title defence with a level-par 73.

But they will all be chasing the 26-year-old Lee, who enjoyed the best of the conditions in the morning.

Fairways that had seemed impossibly narrow three years ago when she shot 78-80 to miss the halfway cut by four shots were suddenly much wider for the world No.59 – who then revealed her aim to become the pick of the many golfing Lees.

“I know this golf course is tough so I told my caddy I want to be middle of the green, I don’t care where the flag is,” she said.

“I think that’s very, very important – so now I know how to play this golf course better than last time I was here.”

There are no less than five golfers bearing the Lee moniker at Royal Melbourne – including teenaged Australian star Minjee Lee – and another five in the world’s top 80, reflecting the dominance of players with Korean heritage.

“We’re not all from Korea, but still, it’s lots of Lees,” said Ilhee Lee, whose sole LPGA victory came in the Bahamas in 2013.

“I want to be the most famous Lee, that’s my goal.”

Jutanugarn also got to five-under before bogeying her last hole on a still, sunny morning on Melbourne’s sandbelt.

Jutanugarn first leapt to prominence when she earned a spot in the 2007 Honda LPGA Thailand at the age of 11, making her the youngest player ever to qualify for an LPGA tournament.

Australian Su Oh – the winner of last weekend’s Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast – had a day to forget.

The teenager had her only birdie on her opening hole before slumping to a six-over 79.

The $1.2 million Australian Open is co-sanctioned by the US LPGA Tour and boasts a very strong field including six of the world’s top 12.

-AAP

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