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Lopez shines, Kang struggles at LPGA Match Play

Updated May 27, 2022 - 12:07 pm

Two players with serious back and neck issues teed it up for the first time in a month Wednesday during the first round of the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play at Shadow Creek. The results couldn’t have been further apart.

Gaby Lopez played some of the day’s best golf and was the first player off the course, a 6-and-5 winner over Chella Choi. Danielle Kang, the tournament’s unofficial host and a member at Shadow Creek, was blitzed 7 and 6 by Kelly Tan, one of the last ones in the 64-player field.

Lopez and Tan were among a number of players to post dominating victories Wednesday, a result that gets them nothing more than one point in their four-player pods and a burst of confidence going into the next two days of round-robin play.

“It was a little bit uncertain what was going to happen,” Lopez said of her first round since the L.A. Open in mid-April. “I took a month off. I had a little injury back home, so I just decided to rest it. You just never know what golf’s going to present to you.”

On this day, it was a dream start. She birdied the first hole and never looked back, shooting 7 under on the front nine including eagles on all three par 5s. She was done before half the field had even teed off.

“I feel great out there. Hitting beautiful drives and iron shots, so I’m happy to be back,” said Lopez, who tried playing through pain for three weeks before being advised to shut everything down for a month.

The fact she played so well, got a win under her belt and didn’t have to expend a lot of energy on Day 1 weren’t as important as simply playing pain-free.

“I was struggling last couple three weeks on tour, and just being able to just kind of feel nothing in my neck and knowing that when I’m healthy enough I can hit ball exactly how I want it,” she said.

For Kang, there was nothing positive to take from her round, other than getting through it. She had five bogeys and no birdies over 12 holes.

Tan, who was 1 up through four holes and then won six holes in a row to put the match away, said she tried to stay focused on her own game and not worry about Kang, even though she appeared to be in pain.

“I feel like I’m a really nice person, and I feel like it’s very hard for me to not care,” said Tan. “I didn’t know she was hurting until the third or fourth hole. She was trying to fix a pitch mark and her knee was on the ground, and that’s when I knew something was wrong with her back.”

Kang wasn’t sure what to say when asked about her health.

“I don’t really know how to answer these questions right now,” she said. “I’m not ready to play.”

Minjee Lee, the overall top seed, showed no signs of slowing down. Fresh off a win in New Jersey two weeks ago, Lee made four birdies and an eagle on the front nine in racing to a 6-and-5 victory of Youngin Chun.

Other top seeds weren’t as fortunate. No. 6 Hannah Green was the only other top-10 seed to win on Wednesday, holding off Haeji Kang 2 and 1. No. 2 Atthaya Thitikul, No. 3 Hyo Joo Kim, No. 4 Kang, No. 5 Jennifer Kupcho and No. 7 Nanna Koerstz Madsen all lost, while Nos. 9 and 10, Jeonjeun Lee6 and Ayaka Furue managed to tie their matches. No. 8 Anna Norqvist withdrew Tuesday night.

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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