Ryu, Seo bring feelings of deja vu to LPGA opener

So Yeon Ryu during the Women's Australian Open.

So Yeon Ryu during the Women's Australian Open.

Is the U.S. Women’s Open still in progress? That never-ending event at the Broadmoor featured a three-hole Monday playoff between Koreans So Yeon Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo. They’re crowding the leaderboard again, this time at the LPGA’s season-opening ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

Seo posted a course-record 66 on a day when only 16 players managed to break par at Royal Melbourne. She trails Ryu by a stroke (-6). This marks the first time a women’s event – amateur or professional – has been held at the renowned track. Aussie Hall of Famer Karrie Webb was given an honorary membership earlier in the week.

There is one twist regarding the Seo/Ryu duel since last summer: Dean Herden is on the bag for Seo this time rather than Ryu. Herden, who built an impressive resume working for Jiyai Shin, is a towering Australian who has a knack for making players feel comfortable when they’re far from home.

“He is not just a caddie for me. He is like a brother, a dad sometimes, a friend,” Seo said. “Sometimes he pushes me hard. Not on the course but in training. I am very happy and very thankful to him.”

While Seo made light of Royal Melbourne, rookie Stephanie Kono can testify to its toughness. The UCLA All-American shot an abysmal 92 in her second round on the LPGA. No doubt a small part of her wishes she was back in Los Angeles.

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Yani Tseng can’t remember the last time she made an eight. Actually, scratch that.

“Wait, I remember,” she said with a laugh. “It was last year at Evian. So that was pretty quick.”

An errant tee shot on the seventh hole left her with an unplayable lie in deep grass. Rather than go back to the tee, she took a drop in more deep grass and took three more shots to get to the fairway.

She bounced back from the quadruple bogey with a 2-under 35 on the back nine. The 76 leaves her six back of Ryu.

• • •

The “Gutsy Fan Award” goes to the unidentified man who yelled out to Karrie Webb just before she was about to putt during the first round. A group of fans noticed that Webb had replaced her ball the wrong direction after moving it for her playing partner, Yani Tseng. The interruption saved Webb from a two-stroke penalty.

“It really caught me off guard,” Webb said. “It was pretty courageous of him.”

• • •

It’s a small logo on Cristie Kerr’s right sleeve, but it speaks volumes about how times have changed. Hana Financial Group announced Kerr as a global ambassador for the 2012 season. Kerr’s manager/husband, Erik Stevens, said it’s the first time Hana Financial has sponsored a non-Korean.

Kerr’s other major sponsors include Mutual of Omaha, Lacoste, Duff & Phelps, Audemars Piguet, Titleist, Liberty National and Coca Cola/Vitamin Water.

• • •

Jessica Korda’s dad, Petr, won the Australian Open (in tennis) in 1998. Now his daughter, a sophomore on the LPGA, stands two strokes back of Ryu at another Australian Open. At 18 years old, Jessica is still growing, inching her way over 6 feet tall. She turns 19 on Feb. 27.

• • •

Lexi Thompson celebrated her 17th birthday in Australia on Friday as a full-fledged LPGA rookie, and she has commissioner Mike Whan to thank for the opportunity. Interestingly enough, Whan shares the same birthday as Thompson. Hopefully they have much to celebrate in the coming years.

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