Sydney sensation Grace Kim is making an audacious bid to win her maiden Australian Open as a professional after snaring the first-round lead in stunning fashion.
The 21-year-old birdied her first five holes en route to a seven-under-par 66 to claim a two-stroke advantage over more-fancied major winners Hannah Green and Korea's former world No.1 Jiyai Shin.
"I wasn't expecting it but I'd take it any day," Kim said after icing her round with an eighth birdie at the par-4 ninth, her last hole of the day.
"I think I took my chances pretty well. I had lots of good numbers, comfortable numbers for my wedge play.
"I guess to simply put it, I played easy golf."
A prodigiously talented former Australian amateur champion, Kim is still on a high two months after earning her LPGA Tour card.
The emerging star secured one of 10 cards on offer from the secondary Epson Tour after finishing fifth in the Race to the Card standings.
In doing so, Kim became the first Australian since Green in 2017 to gain promotion to the LPGA Tour via the secondary tour and fittingly upstaged her celebrated compatriot on Thursday.
She briefly relinquished the lead to Green mid-round but wrestled it back with three more birdies on the back nine.
"I was definitely nervous at the start because I haven't played a tournament in over a month now since I've been back," Kim said.
"And you're at home so expectations and pressures are pretty high but I just tried to embrace it all and try to enjoy it."
Like Kim, Green bagged eight birdies in her round but dropped three shots on her inward nine to sign for a five-under 68 to be tied for second with Shin.
"I got off to a super-hot start so I'm really glad that I was able to get a couple coming in because I kind of lost it there," Green said.
"But Kingston Heath is a brutal course so it's bound to happen. I'm still very pleased with the start."
New Zealand's reigning Australian amateur champion Fiona Xu posted a four-under 68 at the neighbouring Victoria Golf Club to be outright fourth in the first Open since 2019.
Minjee Lee is lurking at two under in a tie for ninth.
The women's Open is also being staged simultaneously with the men's event for the first time ever.
"I've definitely missed this. I'm sure everyone has," Green said.
"I think that's why the crowds are so big. I also think it helps when Adam Scott is playing behind you.
"But it was great for Thursday morning. I can't imagine what the weekend will be like so hopefully everyone comes out and enjoys it."
Australian Associated Press
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.