Large galleries have flocked to see Lydia Ko defend her MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open at Auckland’s Windross Farm Golf Course.

In the first ever LPGA event held in New Zealand, Ko fired an opening two-under-par 70 to trail the early leaders by five shots. In some places, the galleries were three deep to watch their home-grown superstar.

Canada’s Brooke Henderson and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff hold the early lead after both shot seven-under 65. Spain’s Belen Mozo was a further stroke back after a 66, while American Brittany Lincicome and another Spaniard Beatriz Recari carded 67.

The leaders took advantage of the benign morning conditions to get into red numbers. Teeing off early on the back nine, Ko got off to a flyer with birdies on three of her opening six holes.

But her momentum stalled with six consecutive pars before a dropped shot at the par-4 fourth hole. She rebounded immediately with birdie at the fifth to get back to three-under, but dropped another stroke at the eighth.

Afterwards, Ko said she was pretty solid but disappointed with the sloppy finish. But she was clearly delighted with the hometown support from Auckland and beyond: “I think this is one of the biggest crowds of any LPGA event.”

Co-leader Ewart Shadoff was similarly impressed, saying “this looked like a Sunday crowd to me” by comparison with a domestic LPGA event in the US.