Zhao leads by one shot at CLPGA Tour finale in Zhuhai
Zhao Zhimeng set the early pace at the Guowei Centre Plaza Zhuhai Challenge on Wednesday as the Shanxi native carded an opening-round 2-under-par 70 for a one-shot lead in Guangdong Province.
With the final tournament of the China LPGA Tour season set to determine the Order of Merit winner, Ren Yue (71) was the only other player to break par in windy conditions at Zhuhai Orient Golf Club. Sui Xiang and Sun Jiaze were equal third on 73.
Starting her day on the back nine, Zhao, the runner-up to Pan Yanhong (77) at last year's tournament, got her round going when her approach at the 13th hole (her fifth hole) landed three feet from the pin and she converted.
The 20-year-old would then make an 18-foot birdie putt at the next, before picking up another stroke at the 15th hole (her seventh hole) to make the turn at 3-under 33. Following six straight par holes on her back nine (the front nine), Zhao found trouble when she carded successive bogeys on holes seven and eight before rebounding for a birdie three on her last hole, the 362-yard ninth.
"For most of the time this year I haven't played well so today is a really good day for me. I would say it's a 100 percent satisfactory play. I did what I wanted to do," said Zhao, who won the Zhangjiagang Shuangshan Challenge last year for her maiden title.
"This year has been a troublesome one. I was always adjusting my swing. Going into this week I was still working on my swing. I lost confidence and patience a little bit. After a good start, I won't raise my expectations. I have done it before, which was not good for me."
Ren put herself into the mix when she reeled off three straight birdies from the 14th hole in the hunt for her maiden win. Her round also included another birdie at the 473-yard third hole and three bogeys.
The Guangzhou native is currently back home after playing in the United States on the Epson Tour this year where she made 12 cuts in 20 events to retain her full card for next year on the LPGA Tour development circuit.
"I am in my off season now with less practice time, therefore I tried to have fun out there. Entering this week, I just crammed for it. I made some silly mistakes and had two three-putt bogeys. I had three nice birdies late in the round," said the 22-year-old.
"My goal is a win, but I know that my current state isn't so good as those players who have had a busy season."
Sun, who is just over 40,000 yuan (US$5,740) behind leader Zeng Liqi (78) on the money list, also started on the Zhuhai Orient back nine and struggled through a round that featured three birdies and four bogeys, including three straight from the fourth hole, her 13th hole.
"The key part out there is your tee shots. I missed some, but apart from that I did a good job. I didn't think about the Order of Merit. I am a lot of money behind (Zeng) for the time being. I might need a win to close the gap, which is a not a simple job," said the Beijing native, a two-time winner on the CLPGA Tour this year.
Fang Xinyuan and Wu Jiaxi were the leading amateurs with each turning in rounds of 5-over 77.