Top-ranked Ko and Park lurk at Serapong
Ko recovers well while reigning champion Park lurks with menace
By no means was it her best day at the office, but world No. 1 Lydia Ko still managed to crack a smile as she walked off the 18th hole at Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong Course yesterday.
It could have been worse for the Kiwi heroine on a trying first day at the HSBC Women's Champions, where the 18-year-old and the rest of the 63-strong field had to battle both sweltering heat and windy conditions.
Two birdies in the final three holes, however, was enough for Ko to card a one-under 71, leaving her four shots off the pace.
Her biggest rival, world No. 2 Park Inbee, did not finish as well, but was similarly satisfied with her day's work, as the two best players in women's golf each started their quest to rule at Sentosa this weekend.
Park bogeyed the 17th to finish at four under, one behind joint-leaders Lee Minjee and Candie Kung.
They fought each other at Serapong last year, with Park emerging victorious, and those hoping for a prolonged rivalry between the South Korean and New Zealand's Ko would have been happy that the prospect of another duel at Sentosa remains alive.
Fan favourite Ko has played many more spectacular rounds in what is already a stellar career, but she was hardly downcast over how she started her third bid to win the tournament.
She was in good spirits after her opening round and said: "I finished pretty solidly… I got myself to a red figure, which is the important part.
"There are still a lot of positives and, hopefully tomorrow, I can hit some shots closer to the pin and give myself a couple of opportunities.
"I still feel like I'm striking the ball well, although my club selection wasn't that great today.
"I've just got to be more confident and, if I get a look at a birdie, then I'll have to put a good stroke on it."
Park was much steadier and it was impressive after she'd only just recovered from a back injury.
One hot streak of hers did end, though.
She went 72 holes without a bogey in last year's victory march, and the 27-year-old threatened yet another blemish-free round yesterday, only to suffer at the 17th hole.
At least she remains firmly on course to retain her title and get her groove ahead of an important year, which will see golf return to the Olympic Games for the first time since 1904.
"Obviously, it was another great day, but my game needs to sharpen up a bit more," said Park.
"I'm still a bit rusty from taking so much of a break in the off-season, but it was a really great day. I hit the ball and putted the best I have so far this year, so it gives me a lot of confidence.
"It (the bogey) was going to come at some time, but it's actually nice to get it over with today and not have to worry about it any more."
Ko's bogey came earlier.
After a faultless front nine, she bogeyed the 11th, but recovered with what could turn out to be important birdies on the 16th and 18th to remain firmly in contention.
She said: "It was that kind of day when I didn't know if I was going to make a birdie.
"When I was coming towards the end, the last few holes, I knew 16th and 18th are the holes that - if you make a birdie - should be good to balance out the day, and that's what I was able to do."