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Lydia Ko played eight rounds of golf on her honeymoon and then opened with a 64 to co-lead the Saudi Ladies International

Lydia Ko picked up where she left off in 2022 ­– on top. The World No. 1 fired an 8-under 64 in the opening round of the Aramco Saudi Ladies International to co-lead with Pajaree Anannarukarn.

“It’s cool to see I have an officially under par round as a Mrs.” said Ko, who closed the 2022 season with victory at the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of year-end accolades.

From there she married her sweetheart, Jun Chung, Dec. 30 at the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul.

“I had a few weeks to prepare. for this one, but I played a lot of golf, maybe a bit too much golf, on my honeymoon,” said Ko. “But my husband loves golf and that’s something that we can mutually do together, so we took advantage of that. And actually, thanks to him it made my transition into off-season practice a lot easier.

“Yeah, if somebody said, hey, you’re going to play eight rounds of golf over two weeks on your honeymoon I probably would’ve laughed at that person, but it became reality and I had so much fun.”

She even recorded an ace alongside Chung on her honeymoon.

Ko, who won this event in 2021, recorded eight birdies on Thursday at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in a bogey-free round, noting that she felt really confident with her putter. The Kiwi started the season with a new caddie, hiring veteran David Jones for the season.

“The wind is such a big factor on this golf course,” she said, “so when it’s playing to your advantage you kind of want to use that.”

Lydia Ko wins 2021 Aramco Saudi Ladies International (courtesy Aramco)

The Saudi Ladies International, a Ladies European Tour-sanctioned event, features 15 of the top 30 players in the Rolex Rankings. The $5 million prize fund now matches that of the men’s event in Saudi. It’s the largest purse in women’s golf outside of the majors and the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship ($7 million).

The LET’s Saudi-backed events, which total six in 2023, remain controversial given the wide-ranging human rights abuses Saudi Arabia has been accused of, especially toward women.

Last season’s LPGA Rookie of the Year, Atthaya Thitikul, is one stroke back along with recent LET winner Aditi Ashok and Jung Min Hong. Ashok won the Magical Kenya Ladies Open earlier this month and followed it with a third place last week in Morocco.

Aramco Saudi Ladies International Presented By Public Investment Fund, Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, King Abdullah Economic City, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 16-19 February. Aditi Ashok of India during the first round. Credit: Tristan Jones/ LET

A total of 13 major champions are in this week’s field, including Lexi Thompson, who opened with an even-par 72 with bogeys on two of the par 5s. Three-time major winners In Gee Chun and Anna Nordqvist opened with a 70 and 75, respectively.

Nordqvist, one of several female professionals personally sponsored by Golf Saudi, recently told the Swedish news agency TT that she had ended her deal with the Saudis. Nordqvist wore an Aramco Team Series hat when she won the 2021 AIG Women’s British Open at Carnoustie and had the Golf Saudi logo on her sleeve.

Nordqvist said her decision to part ways had to do with the backlash she received from the partnership, and that she will continue to play in Aramco-sponsored events throughout the season.

“It didn’t really turn out the way I thought it would,” Nordqvist told TT in an interview.

“I need to think about myself and I haven’t felt good about this,” she said, adding: “I wasn’t really prepared to get such an incredible amount of hatred and mean comments from people who don’t even know me.”

Meghan MacLaren, an English player who has been critical in the past about sportswashing in Saudi Arabia, opened with a 74.



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