NAPLES, Fla. - After ending her day with a 5-wood shot that caressed the hole and led to a tap-in putt, Austin Ernst has a lot of confidence going into Round 2 of the CME Group Tour Championship.
Ernst's play on the final hole gave her a 6-under 66 on Thursday and a one-shot lead over South Korea's Mi Hyang Lee at Tiburon Golf Club in the LPGA event of the season.
"I think it almost went in," Ernst said. "The crowd got pretty loud. It rolled right over the edge."
Six players are tied at 4-under, which includes Americans Brittany Lincicome, Gerina Piller, Jaye Marie Green, Cristie Kerr, Jennifer Song and South Korea's Sei Young Kim, the rookie of the year. Six of the top eight scorers are from the U.S.
In past trips here, Ernst said she's driven the ball terribly.
"I looked yesterday during the Pro-Am at some of the places I've hit it and I was shocked that I could hit it that bad," she said.
On Thursday, she said hit the ball much better, although her drive on No. 18 wasn't to her liking.
"I fanned it to the right," she said.
She more than made up for it.
Lee, who has a reputation of great starts, had three bogeys but also had eight birdies.
"I don't know why, I just keep playing," she said. "Just keep playing and then playing with another good player, awesome players."
Playing in the final threesome of the day, top-ranked Lydia Ko, along with Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis, started slow in the front nine. With victories, they'll win The Race To The CME Globe, which includes a $1 million bonus.
The winning check for this week is $500,000.
While Ko recovered a tad on the back nine and finished with a 3-under 69, Park is at 1-under 71 and Stacy Lewis at even-par 72.
"I think it's better than last year," said Ko, who started 2-under before winning the tournament. "It's not easy out there. I mean, obviously there are some birdies, but there are holes where if you are coming off of with a par, you say thank you and just walk out of there."
Many of the LPGA's season-ending awards between Ko and Park are on the line this weekend, including No. 1 Player in the world, Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy (money title). They both have won five tournaments this year. Lewis is ranked No. 3 despite having no tourney wins.