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Danielle Kang tops charts in LPGA opener

Danielle Kang at 2020 ANA Inspiration
Danielle Kang shoots 7-under 64 for the 1st-round lead Thursday at the LPGA’s Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.

Teamed with country singers Lee Brice and Cole Swindell, Kang shoots 64 to lead Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions

For someone who was born in San Francisco and raised in Southern California by her South Korean parents, the LPGA’s Danielle Kang might seem to be an unlikely country-music fan.

Well, her golf game certainly responds to the beat.

Paired with country singers Lee Brice and Cole Swindell in the first round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, Kang shot a bogey-free 7-under 64 on Thursday at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club's Tranquilo Golf Course in Orlando, Fla. She held a one-stroke lead in the LPGA’s season opener (scores).

“It was a really fun round today,” Kang said. “Besides what I shot, I had a blast. I really love playing with Lee and Cole. We have so much fun. I want to play with them every day.”

Kang was grouped with the two singers in last year’s first round of the T of C, as well, and she opened with an even better score, a 63. She eventually finished 12th.

“I just feel like I'm playing with my friends back at home and I'm not stressed,” said Kang, 28, a five-time winner on the LPGA who is coming off of a career-best season. “That's kind of the vibe I have. I know tournament golf, we always want to play well and win, and sometimes we get so caught up we forget to enjoy it.

“Those two guys, you can't not have fun with them.”

The tournament matched winners from the past three seasons with 53 amateurs from the sports and entertainment worlds. Former tennis champion Mardy Fish shot 66 and compiled 41 points in the modified Stableford format to lead the celebrity division. Swindell stood T-18, and Brice was T-49.

Kang won in consecutive weeks in August last year as the tour restarted after a 5½-month shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She posted three other top-5 finishes in 13 starts during a season in which she won the LPGA’s Vare Trophy for her tour-leading 70.082 scoring average.

American sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda were tied for second with Mexico’s Gaby Lopez, the defending champion, at 6-under 65, though the Kordas arrived at their scores from different directions.

Jessica Korda, 27, a five-time winner on the LPGA, started on the back nine and played her first four holes in 5 under, making the turn in 7-under 30. However, she made two bogeys on her homeward nine before finishing the par-3 ninth with a birdie to salvage a 6-under round.

Nelly Korda, 22, a three-time LPGA champion, started on the front nine, bogeying two of her first six holes. She stood only 1 under through 11 but finished with three birdies and added an eagle, at the par-5 17th, to surge to 6 under.

Americans Brittany Lincicome and Stacy Lewis shared fifth place at 66.

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