Lydia Ko was all smiles after her opening-round 66 at the LPGA's Tournament of Champions yesterday but it wasn't only her performance on the course that had her in a good mood.

Ko relished the opportunity to play alongside baseball legends Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez and AJ Pierzynski during the first round of the inaugural pro-am event.

After signing her scorecard, Ko posed for photos with the pair and said the light-hearted nature of the event allowed her to calm her nerves. The results show on the leaderboard, as Ko sits just one stroke off the lead after holing a succession of long putts.

"I think it's hands down my favourite, the best pairing I've ever been in," Ko said. "Ever since No1, Ivan and AJ were so amazing. They were like, I don't want to get in your way, and I'm like, no, I don't want to get in your way. It was just so much fun, just with the whole set-up here, it's definitely a really unique event for us."


Ko was one shot behind Brooke Henderson and Eun-Hee Ji tied for third alongside long-time rival Stacy Lewis, back on tour three months after becoming a mother, and six months after she last played on tour. She opened with seven birdies.

"Pleasantly surprised," Lewis said. "Had pretty low expectations going into the day. Just really made a lot of putts. I had some weird shots, which I knew was going to happen, having not played in a while. I don't know where it came from, but I'm going to take it."

Henderson overcame a slow start with a bogey on the second hole and a par save on No3 at the Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons. She birdied five of her last eight holes for a 65 to tie Ji, who had a bogey-free round.

The tournament - the first season-opener in Florida for the LPGA since 2015 - is only for LPGA winners each of the last two years.

Along with the 26-player field from the LPGA Tour competing for a $1.2 million purse, 49 entertainers are competing for a $500,000 prize fund using the modified Stableford scoring system.

Tennis player Mardy Fish led that field with 39 points for a two-point lead over a group that included retired pitcher Mark Mulder.

- AP