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Las Vegas LPGA star ambivalent after strong start at Match Play

Danielle Kang version 2.0 was on display at Shadow Creek on Wednesday during the opening round of the T-Mobile Match Play.

The precise iron play and signature course-management skills were there as usual, but the ultra-competitive, fiery Kang that led to six career LPGA titles has been replaced by a mellow version that finds her joy in family and friends and not necessarily on the golf course.

Even after a 5-under 67 that left her one shot behind leader Sei Young Kim, Kang had little enthusiasm about her round, which ended with a snaking 75-foot birdie putt dropping on her closing hole.

“No matter what happens, it really doesn’t matter,” she said shortly after leaving the scoring tent. “I played a really good round today. I know I got some people excited. There was a huge cheer. As long as I made some people happy today, we’re good.”

Kang’s results on the course have not been the same since she was diagnosed with a spinal tumor in the summer of 2022 that took her away from the game for much of the year.

The Las Vegas resident’s last top-10 finish was in June, and the last time she seriously contended was in Singapore 13 months ago. But none of that really matters any longer to Kang, who simply values time with family and friends more than golf.

“I shot 5 under today, and that’s — no offense — but end of story, right?” she said. “You play good, you play bad, you play bad, you play good. You play great, you win and then you lose. That’s just kind of the game of golf. That’s kind of my perspective on it.”

For Kim, it was almost all good Wednesday. She was 6 under through 10 holes before closing with one more birdie and a single bogey the rest of the way. The score was surprising to the 12-time LPGA champion.

“The front nine I didn’t expect I would play that well because I was like, some holes par is best,” she said.

Joining Kang one shot off the lead is another Las Vegas resident, Rose Zhang, who closed with four consecutive birdies during her 67. She called her iron play “exceptional,” and credited patience on the difficult Shadow Creek layout as the key.

“One of my strengths when I play well is being able to have a really good game plan and executing that,” the 20-year-old said. “That’s kind of what I did here.”

Kim, Kang and Zhang were among the few to take advantage of what will likely be the most benign conditions at Shadow Creek all week. Just 15 golfers in the 96-player field were able to break par — and just five in the afternoon wave — on a course where trouble lurks on nearly every hole.

Minjee Lee and Yuka Saso were best among the afternoon group, finishing with 69s to join Anna Nordqvist three off the lead.

Nelly Korda, looking to win her fourth consecutive start, sits in a tie for 28th after a ho-hum 73. She made three bogeys and two birdies, but none on any of the par-5s.

Strong winds are expected Thursday afternoon, giving players in the second-round morning wave a likely huge advantage.

The field will be cut to the top 65 players and ties following Thursday’s round, with a second cut on Friday to the top eight who will move on to match play on the weekend.

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. Reach him at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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