Ernst leads LPGA Tour finale at 66

Austin Ernst leads

Austin Ernst birdied the last two holes to complete a 6-under-par 66 and grab a one-stroke lead over Mi Hyang Lee of South Korea after the opening round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla.

Ernst, whose only LPGA Tour victory came in the 2014 Portland Classic, collected eight birdies, including five on the back nine.

“Really, I’ve just been a little up and down with the putter (lately),” said Ernst, whose best finish this season was a tie for second in the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic. “I hit the ball well today. Gave myself a lot of good looks and made a lot of them.

“I think I had eight birdies today. Obviously when I get a round like that, where I get confidence with my putter, that’s normally when I have my good weeks.”

Lee, who last year won the 2014 Mizuno Classic and ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open, also had eight birdies but added three bogeys to two for Ernst.

Gerina Piller posted a bogey-free 68 and was tied for third with Cristie Kerr, Jaye Marie Green, Brittany Lincicome, Jenny Song and Sei Young Kim of South Korea.

Alison Lee of Valencia and UCLA bounced back from two early bogeys to card a 69 and was tied for ninth with Ha Na Jang and I.K. Kim, both of South Korea, and top-ranked Lydia Ko of New Zealand.

Ko is battling No. 2 Inbee Park of South Korea for the No. 1 ranking, the CME Globe title, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the LPGA Tour’s Player of the Year Award.

Park opened with a 71 and was in a tie for 22nd.

Any player in the top nine of the point standings who wins the tournament will take home the CME Globe and a $1-million bonus.

In addition to Ko, Park and Sei Young Kim, others in that number include Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, So Yeon Ryu and Amy Yang of South Korea, Anna Nordqvist of Sweden and Shanshan Feng of China.

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