Szokol shines against galaxy of stars to set early pace at HSBC Women’s World Championship

Elizabeth Szokol competing in the 1st round of the HSBC Women’s World; Championship | Getty Images

MARCH 2, SINGAPORE – Elizabeth Szokol of the United States outplayed several of the world’s best players at the Sentosa Golf Club by firing an eight-under-par 64 to take the first round at the HSBC Women’s World Championship on Thursday.

2021 US Women’s Open champion, Yuka Saso showed her major credentials by signing for a bogey-free 67 to trail Szokol by three shots while world No. 2 Nelly Korda, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, Patty Tavatanakit, Japan’s Ayaka Furue and South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim and Lee6 Jeongeun are bunched in third place after they posted identical 68s at the US$1.8 million LPGA event. 

With a star-studded line-up that features 17 of the world’s top 20, including all of the world’s top five, it was however the World No. 153 who made the early impression with an almost near-flawless round at the Tanjong Course, which is hosting its tenth edition of the tournament this week.

Starting on the back-nine 10, Szokol stumbled with a bogey on the par-four 10. She made three straight pars before reeling in three birdies in the next five holes to turn in 34. 

The 28-year-old then showed her class in her inward-nine with another birdie on the first hole before storming home with an eagle on five, followed by birdies on holes six, eight and nine.

“It’s great. I’m really happy about the start. I’m hitting my irons better than last week and I feel like I’m shaking off a little rust from the offseason,” said Szokol.

Elizabeth Szokol on sitting 3 shots clear of the star-studded leaderboard:

“I had a few final groups two years ago. But I think just doing what I usually do, and I really try and get away from golf once I leave the golf course. So go and have dinner with friends and explore Singapore and do just about everything else than think about golf.”

Playing on a medical exemption this week, the American is also pleased to be enjoying a clean bill of health after she was forced to stay away from tournament golf in the second half of last year due to a herniated disk injury.

“I was out for about four or five months and I didn’t touch a golf club for about 12 weeks. I was really focused on getting better and feeling healthy. So, I’m really happy to be back playing and especially here,” said Szokol.

Yuka Saso |Getty Images

Yuka Saso on what it’s like to work with her new caddie:

“I first met him back in 2021 when he was still caddying for In Gee, and obviously he’s a great guy and he played golf, and he is very supportive with my routine and keeps me, in the moment. He just makes me laugh, and have non-related golf talk on the golf course. So it’s been fun with him.”

Saso started her front-nine strongly with four birdies to turn in 32. However, the 21-year–old, who is still searching for her first win since her major breakthrough in 2021, could not repeat a similar run in her back-nine where she only had one birdie on 16 to show for at the Sentosa Golf Club- the world’s first carbon neutral golf club.

“Winning on the LPGA is not easy. The quality of the tournaments and players here are very high. I just have to keep grinding and give myself chances every week. But it’s tough. I just have to be patient and enjoy the journey,” said the Filipino-born Japanese.

Meanwhile, Korda believes she cannot adopt a conservative approach and has to be aggressive to stand any chance of lifting her ninth LPGA title after marking her card with three birdies.

“I know I’ve got to shoot a low one every single day and continue being aggressive to win this tournament. Holing the putts is definitely going to be important and I have to keep the momentum going from last week,” said the American, who finished tied-sixth in Thailand last week.

Nelly Korda | Getty Images

Nelly Korda on a Major feeling at the HSBC Women’s World Championship:

“I think it’s definitely a pretty tough golf course. I mean, the fans are amazing. The course is in great condition. I mean, I’ve never seen tee boxes so nice. They literally feel like you can putt off of them. So, obviously, just the way that they treat us out here and then the golf course condition makes it feel like a major.”

Defending champion Ko Jin-young of South Korea posted a 72 to trail Szokol by eight shots in tied-36th place while world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand is a share of 14th place after returning with a 70.

This year marks the 15th edition of the HSBC Women’s World Championship and remarkably, of the 14 previous winners, 12 are Major champions, lending yet further credibility to the player’s claim that this is ‘Asia’s Major.’ 

Round 1 Highlights | 2023 HSBC Women’s World Championship

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