Date: November 17, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

Smith on top in LPGA Tour champs

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Australia's Sarah Jane Smith has franked a consistent year by leaping to the lead in the LPGA Tour's season finale, the CME Group Championship in Florida.

Queenslander Smith, who is originally from Geelong in Victoria, fired a bogey-free opening 66 to hit the top of the leaderboard in a star-studded field.

Ranked 41st on the season-long points tally, she would vault to as high as seventh if she were to win this week at Tiburon Golf Club.

Long-hitting Smith set up her round with an eagle on the par-five sixth hole and then made three birdies on the back nine in one of the rounds of her career.

She is tied for the lead at six-under par with Taipei's Pieyun Chien. The top-ranked Australian player Minjee Lee also had a good start, carding an opening 69 to be inside the top 10.

Smith, 33, has played on the main tour since 2008 but never won a tournament. She has carded two top-10 finishes this season and is ranked 84th in the world.

"I like how I’m hitting the ball, I’m just going to continue to work on my short game,'' she told the tour website after her round, admitting that she had been working with coach Sean Foley on a longer, slower backswing. "I just felt comfortable out there today.''

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko is among the group just a shot behind, but most of the top-ranked players including current world No. 1 Shanshan Feng of China are back in the field after the first round.