THREE Sunshine Coast golfers are leading the Australian charge after the opening round of the Women's Australian Open at Canberra yesterday.
US LPGA Tour regulars Katherine Hull-Kirk and Sarah Jane Smith share seventh spot at the $1.2 million tournament and teenage talent Katelyn Must is tied for 14th in a red-hot field that includes nine of the globe's top-20 players.
Hull made the most of the relatively benign morning conditions to snare four birdies in her first six holes on the back nine, before finishing the day on five-under-par 68.
Her round was a marked improvement from a fortnight ago, when she finished in a tie for 49th at the Australian Ladies Masters in her first appearance of the season.
"I worked hard last week on my short game, which is something I have always struggled with and it was really rusty at the Masters," Hull-Kirk said.
"I needed to do some work on that, so today's round was probably a culmination of that work."
Hull-Kirk, 30, was also smooth with the flat stick, except for a three-putt bogey on the 18th.
"The putter was rolling early. I hit 15 greens and only had one bogey, so it was kind of a simple day really," she said.
"I didn't make many birdies on the Gold Coast, but they finally dropped today.
Hull-Kirk, who was five strokes adrift of hugely impressive New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko, added: "My goal at the start of the week was just to get into contention and that probably won't change because this is probably the strongest field we've had in an Australian women's golf tournament.
"Winning it is going to be difficult, but it's not out of the question."
Little Mountain's Smith recorded seven birdies and two bogeys in her round.
Surprise packet Must, forging her way in the pro ranks this season, had an eagle on the par-five.
Fellow Sunshine Coast golfer Tamara Johns carded a round of one-over-par 64 to be in a share of 99th place.