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Jin races to early lead in Pattaya

HONG Jin-joo of South Korea emerged as a surprise first-round leader yesterday after carding a 6 under-par 66 at the US$1.45 Million LPGA Thailand in Pattaya.

In a field boasting all the world's top 10 players, it was instead the unfancied Jin who fired six birdies and an eagle against two bogeys to open a two-stroke lead over the chasing pack. Sweden's Helen Alfredsson (68) shared second place with four Americans: Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Kristy McPherson and Brittany Lang.

"My putting was really good. It really saved me," the 25-year-old Hong said. "I had some really bad drives but I was able to catch up with my great putting. I came to Thailand a month in advance and practiced with my coach Ahn Joo-hwan in Ayutthaya for a month. I felt really good coming into this tournament because I have a lot of confidence in my game."

Mexican Lorena Ochoa, the world's top-ranked player, struggled on the firm greens and carded a 71, to be among nine players in shared 12th place, including former No. 1 Karrie Webb of Australia.

The world's No. 3 Creamer produced three birdies over the final five holes to take a share of second.

"The green is fast. The pin points are very difficult to get to," Creamer said.

"I hit just 11 greens but I was chipping and putting well. I was third here the last time and this time I will try to win. It was a good start but there are three more days."

Stanford, who like Jin got an eagle on the 11th, displayed the form that saw her win in Hawaii two weeks ago.

"It's been a wild ride. I had so much fun hitting the ball. I didn't look at the result. I was rolling the ball well," Stanford said. "I'm not worried what surrounded me. My caddy made me play one shot at a time."

McPherson was another player to say her low score did not reflect the difficulty of both the course and the tropical heat which forced to drink a bottle of water per hole.

"The green is firm. It's tough here. I did well on course management," McPherson said. "The scores were a lot lower than they should be."

American Nicole Castrale (69) was outright seventh, a shot ahead of Sweden's Sophie Gustafson, 2006 champion Han Hee-won of South Korea, LPGA Championship winner Yani Tseng of Chinese Taipei and American Morgan Pressel.


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