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Korea's Jin Joo Hong Takes Lead

February 25, 2009

Hong's best finish on the LPGA Tour was a T-4 at the 2008 Evian Masters.

PATTAYA, Thailand (AP) -- Jin Joo Hong of South Korea emerged as a surprise first-round leader Thursday after shooting a 6-under 66 at the $1.45 million LPGA Thailand.

In a field boasting all the world's top 10 players, it was the unheralded Hong who fired six birdies and an eagle against two bogeys to open a two-stroke lead over Sweden's Helen Alfredsson and 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 had a 71, along with nine other players, including former No. 1 Karrie Webb of Australia.

The world's No. 3 Creamer made a late charge with birdies on three of the final five holes.

"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 along with Hong had an eagle on the 11th hole, showed 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. "My confidence is high. I'm not worried what surrounded me. My caddy made me play one shot at a time."

McPherson was another player who said her low score did not reflect the difficulty of both the course and the tropical heat.

"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 alone in seventh place, a shot ahead of Sweden's Sophie Gustafson, 2006 champion Hee-won Han of South Korea, LPGA Championship winner Yani Tseng of Taiwan and American Morgan Pressel.