Lydia Ko enjoyed eight rounds of golf while on honeymoon. She then opened with a 64 in order to lead the Saudi Ladies International.

Lydia Ko picked up where she left off in 2022 ­– on top. The World No. The World No. 1 shot an 8-under 64 during the first round of the Aramco Saudi Ladies International. This was in collaboration with Pajaree Annannarukarn.

“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.

There she wed Jun Chung, her sweetheart. Dec. 30, at Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral.

“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. It was actually a blessing that made my transition to off-season practice much 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.”

Chung was also present 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 opened the season with a new caddieDavid Jones, a veteran in the field, was hired by the company to fill 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)

Saudi Ladies International is a Ladies European Tour sanctioned event that features 15 of the top thirty 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 in the month, and then followed it up with a third-place finish 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 round one. 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. In Gee Chun, Anna Nordqvist and three-time major winners opened with 70 and 75, respectively.

Nordqvist was one of many female professionals sponsored by Golf Saudi. She recently informed the Swedish news agency TT she had terminated her sponsorship with them. 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 musician who has been critical in the past about sportswashing Saudi Arabia opened with a number of 74.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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