Saturday qualifier Jang in early Coates mix

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OCALA, Fla. – Ha Na Jang may be a South Korean star and hold a lofty spot at No. 21 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but she had to play her way into the Coates Golf Championship in the LPGA’s season opener this week.

Now, she’s in early position to become the first qualifier to win an LPGA event in 15 years.

A proven force in South Korea, Jang earned LPGA membership tying for sixth at Q-School last month, but she didn’t have a high enough priority ranking to get into the Coates Golf Championship. Jang, however, earned her way into the field anyway, claiming one of the two spots up for grabs in a pre-tournament qualifier on Saturday.

With a 5-under-par 67 Wednesday, Jang moved into early contention in the first round at Golden Ocala. She is trying to become the first qualifier to win an LPGA event since Laurel Kean won the State Farm Classic in 2000, according to LPGA officials. Jang is one shot off the lead.

Jang, 22, was the South Korean LPGA’s Player of the Year in 2013. She tied for third at the Evian Championship last year, which inspired her to seek LPGA membership in the United States through Q-School. She’s among the favorites to win what should be a tight race for LPGA Rookie of the Year.

Through an interpreter after her round, Jang said she doesn’t consider herself a star, no matter her standing in South Korea. She said she is like every other rookie on tour this year, with the same mindset in trying to prove herself.