Golf: Kiwi Lydia Ko tied for lead midway through season-opening Tournament of Champions at Orlando

After a disastrous 2023 campaign, Kiwi Lydia Ko has made a promising start to the new year, tied for the lead halfway through the season-opening Tournament of Champions at Orlando, Florida.

Ko, 26, barely retained her LPGA tour card, after finishing no higher than third and missing four cuts over the past 12 months, as her world ranking plunged from No.1 to 12th currently.

Fortunately, to qualify for this event, players need to have won a title over the past two years - Ko won three events, including the Tour Championship, in 2022.

Lydia Ko in action at the Tournament of Champions.
Lydia Ko in action at the Tournament of Champions. Photo credit: Getty Images

After carding a three-under-par 69 opening round at the Lake Nona Golf Course, where she is a member, Ko has returned a five-under 67 on the second day to sit level with overnight leader Ayaka Furue of Japan.

Ko's flawless performance featured three birdies and an eagle three at the par-five ninth that propelled her into the lead. 

"I felt like I hit the ball well today," she said. "On nine, I had a good lie and it wasn't the first time I'd been in that rough, so I was, 'Hey, what's the worst that can happen?'

"I've been pretty much everywhere around the greens, that's the perks of being a member. I thought, if I actually do hit a good shot, it could end up on the green, but it ended up leaving me in a perfect spot up the hill.

"It was definitely nice to make the turn at four under."

Furue edged ahead with birdies on the 12th and 15th, but Ko drew level again with a birdy on the final hole.

Only Englishwoman Charley Hull (66) shot a lower second round.

Ko and Furue hold a two-stroke lead over Scott Gemma Dryburgh and Mexican Gaby Lopez, with Canadian defending champion Brooke Henderson another shot back in fifth.

"I think it's going to be a little cold over the next couple of days," said Ko. "It was pretty cold on the pro am and the course played a little longer than usual, so I think that's going to be more of a factor - just trying to keep warm and make sure I'm still hitting committed shots."

Ko missed this event last year, as she celebrated her recent marriage to Chung Jun.