Sarah Schmelzel seizes early lead in Singapore

Sarah Schmelzel birdied two of her final three holes on Thursday to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore.

Beginning on the back nine, Schmelzel overcame a bogey on the par-4 No. 12 to record five birdies and finish at 4-under-par 68 at the Sentosa Golf Club — The Tanjong Course

“It was good. A little shaky at the start, the front nine made some good par saves, three of them scattered over the front nine. It was about good, then just got some putts to go in on my back nine on the front,” Schmelzel said. “Everything felt good. Working on some stuff so it’s nice to see some hard work pay off. Just keep it going.”

Schmelzel, who is bidding for her first LPGA Tour win, kicked it up a notch during her final nine holes on Thursday. She made two birdies on her first two holes of the back nine and three more over her final five holes.

Schmelzel leads Lilia Vu, Sweden’s Linn Grant and Germany’s Esther Henseleit by one stroke heading into the second round.

Vu turned in a bogey-free round of 69 while Grant collected four birdies against one bogey. Grant, in fact, credited improvements with her ball-striking during her first-round performance on Thursday.

“I was a bit, I would say confused with my ball-striking for the past week. Like this morning, I really tried to take my time on the range and find something that felt, like, good enough, and that I can play with, and I feel — I was trying to be very focused on every shot and not just take anything for granted,” Grant said. “So in my mind, I was just playing very simple, just thinking one shot at a time. Especially with the wind, that’s usually a good way of playing.”

Henseleit rebounded from a 2-over-par start to notch five birdies — including four in a row on Nos. 5-8 — to move into a tie for second place and was pleased after a disappointing T49 last weekend at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

“It’s always great to start off the year, it shows you that you did some good work over the offseason. Yeah, I’ve been playing well. … Couldn’t really get it going on the weekend,” Henseleit said. “But I do have a lot of confidence in my golf game at the moment, and my putter was also really good today.”

Four-time LPGA Tour winner In Gee Chun and fellow South Korean Hyo Joo Kim joined Andrea Lee, Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Chanettee Wannasaen of Thailand in a tie for fifth place at 2-under. The quintet is one shot ahead of a 13-golfer continent that includes two-time defending champion Jin Young Ko of South Korea at 1-under 71.

Patty Tavatanakit, who won last week’s LPGA event in her native Thailand, finished with a 1-over 73 to sit in a tie for 30th place.