Stark, Meechai lead as LPGA returns to China

Stark, Meechai lead as LPGA returns to China

SHANGHAI — Maja Stark and Wichanee Meechai each shot 6-under 66 on Thursday to take a 2-stroke first-round lead at the LPGA Shanghai event in the tour’s return to China since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stark, one of three rookies on the European team that tied the Americans to retain the Solheim Cup last month in Spain, birdied four of her first six holes on the Qizhong Garden Golf Club course. Meechai overcame a first-hole bogey and finished strongly with a pair of birdies.

“Playing the Solheim Cup gave me so much confidence,” said Stark, who hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens and made 28 putts. “A whole continent is looking for you to play well.”

Meechai made her debut in the event but is familiar with the Qizhong course, having played on the Chinese tour and when it hosted a Ladies European Tour event.

“I feel like Chinese now because I played on the China Tour for three years and you have to speak Chinese … and it feels like home,” said Meechai, who is from Thailand.

Americans Danielle Kang, Lauren Coughlin and Alison Lee and Chinese players Cai Danlin and Li Shuying were in a group at 68 and in a 10-way tie for third.

Kang is going for her third straight victory in Shanghai after winning in 2018 and 2019. She had three birdies in her first eight holes.

“You just have to have ball striking really in play with wedges because there is a lot of tricky grass around the greens,” said Kang. “My caddie … really helped me stay in the moment. He’s like, ‘It’s only Thursday. Stop looking at the leaderboard. We’re going to end up where you need to end up.'”

The field, representing 21 countries, features the top two players in the women’s world rankings, Lilia Vu (72) and Women’s PGA champion Ruoning Yin (71).

South Korean-born New Zealander Lydia Ko shot a 74.

The 81-player, no-cut field features 62 players from the LPGA Tour, 15 from the China Ladies PGA and four sponsor exemptions. The event is the start of a four-tournament Asia swing, with later stops in South Korea, Malaysia and Japan.

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