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By Steve Brandon/Portland Tribune/Late birdies put duo at 64 through first round of LPGA Tour stop

COURTESY PHOTO: GABE ROUX/CHEMA SAIZ - HANNAH GREENIt was getting late when Hannah Green and Mi Jung "M.J." Hur got around to stealing the spotlight, aka taking the lead, through one round of the LPGA Cambia Portland Classic.

Both birdied their final three holes — Nos. 7-9 at Columbia Edgewater Country Club — to finish at 8-under-par 64 and go one stroke ahead of Jane Park (and later, 18-year-old Yealimi Noh).

Seven golfers were next at 66. Twelve players, including two-time Portland winner Brooke Henderson, fired 67s. And world No. 1 Jin Young Ko was among 10 who went around in 68.

So, is a record-breaking shootout in the works? Some players were wondering if this week might turn into a big limbo contest, as in the words of the old song: How low can you go? Could Henderson's 72-hole tournament record of 21-under 267, set in 2015, be in jeopardy? Or will Columbia Edgewater fight back, as it often does, even against the globe's greatest women golfers?

"I think the weather is going to be good for us the next three days, but I didn't see the scores so low like today," Green said. "I don't know if we'll reach into the 20s, but I would say high teens."

Green is a 22-year-old from Perth, Australia, who has won before. OK, so only once — but it was a big one, a major, the Women's PGA Championship this year at Hazeltine National Golf Club is Chaska, Minnesota. The 64 was her lowest round ever on the tour and tied the lowest of her career.

PMG PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - MI JUNG 'M.J.' HURHur is familiar to many LPGA followers in Portland. Ten years ago, at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, the then-LPGA Tour rookie won this event, defeating Suzann Pettersen and Michele Redman in a playoff.

Now 29, the South Korean has fond memories of that victory, which was her first of three on the LPGA Tour (she also won in 2014 and just three weeks ago in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open).

Walking into the players' clubhouse at Columbia Edgewater, she noted that tournament officials had posted large photographs of previous Portland champions.

"I stopped and took my picture with that picture," she said.

Hur said she believes her long game is better now than it was 10 years ago, and it was good on Thursday, when she hit 15 greens and made nine birdies, including five in a 5-under 31 on the front side.

On the par-5 7th hole (her 16th), she hit a 6-iron from 175 yards after a "really good drive" to set up a two-putt birdie. On the par-3 8th, she knocked a 142-yard "firm 9-iron" to nine feet and made that. On the par-4 9th, she drove into the left rough and figured she might bogey, but a big draw with the 9-iron wound up getting the ball within 10 feet for a surprising closing birdie.

"When you miss the fairway on No. 9, you just try to make par," she said. "But I've played this course four or five years, and I've been there a lot, so I know how to hit that."

Green credited her putting with her fast start on Thursday — "I was really solid from six feet and in" — and like Hur she gave at least equal credit to the placement of her approach shots.

"Ball striking has generally been the best part of my game. I've been inconsistent with my putter," she said of her career. "But I'm really happy with it today. I thnk the key here is just keeping the ball below the hole, and having uphill putts rather than downhill putts on these greens."

The greens and birdie possibilities are only one reason why Green was in a good frame of mind on Thursday.

"I love it here, I love Portland," she said. "It's a city that reminds me of Australia, the food and the very laid-back, chilled vibes around here. Definitely Portland will always be on my tournament schedule."

The second round starts at 7:15 a.m. Friday.

Green tees off on No. 1 at 7:59 a.m., with Ko and defending champion Marina Alex (70) starting at the same time on the back nine. Hur tees off on No. 1 at 8:10 a.m.


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