Japan’s Ayaka Furue shot an opening round of eight-under-par 63 at the Evian Championship on Thursday to lead by one shot and raise her hopes of a first Major title.
The diminutive 22-year-old has won seven times on the Japanese Tour and is a rookie on the LPGA Tour. Last year, she finished fourth at Evian.
Her nine birdies, against just one bogey, secured a one-stroke advantage over Canadian Brooke Henderson and former world No 1 Nelly Korda, who is on a mission back to the top after an early season ruined by illness.
American newcomer Cheyenne Knight was alone in fourth place after a 65, with world No 1 Ko Jin-young and Lydia Ko in a group on five under.
South Africa’s Buhai is on three under for a share of 19th.
“I love it here, I get good vibes,” said Furue. “Last year I thought I would play well and it was great today.
“I was home recently working on my swing with my dad and now I just want to keep it going.”
Korda claimed her first Major title at last year’s Women’s PGA Championship but suffered a blood clot in her arm in January.
It meant the American, who will turn 24 next week, missed the early part of the season, with Evian just her fifth tournament of the year.
But she showed little sign of rust with a flawless seven-birdie round, not that it was without drama.
At the par-five 18th (her ninth hole), she hit her second shot into the water and ended up taking her shoes and socks off to hit out and managed to save par.
“I’ve never done that before and it was gross,” she said. “It was really horrible and slimy. But I’m delighted with the round.
“After what has happened this year, I am a lot more chilled on the golf course. I really appreciate being out here and just trying to enjoy it a lot more. Mind you, I don’t know if my caddie will agree.”
Henderson enjoyed her Major breakthrough with a victory as an 18-year-old at the 2016 Women’s PGA Championship and she claimed her 11th LPGA title at the Shoprite Classic last month.
“I was striking it well and made a lot of putts,” said the 24-year-old. “That’s always a good sign. I am delighted with such a start to a Major and just hope I can keep it up.”
Ko Jin-young, player of the year in 2021, is returning to the action after a three-week break in South Korea.
“I worked with my coach on a few things, and I’m feeling nicely refreshed,” the 2019 champion said.
“In my rookie 2018 season, I played 28 events. This year I’ll only play 15 or 16.”
Australian defending champion Minjee Lee had a sluggish start on a warm, ideal scoring day.
A 70 left her seven shots off the pace – but she did come from seven behind in the last round to win 12 months ago.
© Agence France-Presse