Australia’s Minjee Lee fired six birdies in a six-under-par 66 on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Chevron Championship with Jennifer Kupcho.
Lee birdied all four of the par-fives on the Dinah Shore tournament course at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, California, which is hosting the prestigious women’s Major for the last time.
“It was perfect,” Lee said. “Conditions are great. Putting greens are rolling real nice. I don’t think you can get better than that.”
The 25-year-old – ranked fourth in the world – is seeking a second Major title after winning the Evian Championship last year, her sixth LPGA crown and first Major.
She said owning a Major championship had boosted her confidence – and whetted her appetite for more.
“I know I have one under my belt, but I do want a little bit more,” Lee said. “I just think I have a little bit more belief in myself and my game so I can be a little bit more comfortable just hitting the shots that I choose.”
Kupcho, a former amateur standout who is chasing a first LPGA title, was four-under through the front nine and reached eight-under with a run of four straight birdies from the 11th through the 14th.
But she gave back two shots with bogeys at 15 and 17.
“I really like the layout of this golf course, the beautiful shape that it’s in every year,” Kupcho said. “It always is so fun to be here, so just taking advantage of how much I like the course and the atmosphere.”
Lee also got off to a quick start, teeing off on 10 and making birdies at the 11th, 13th and 14th. She was particularly pleased to pick up a shot at 13 after her ball hit a cart path.
She closed her first nine with a birdie at the par-five 18th, and after a birdie at the par-five 2nd she closed with a birdie at the par-five 9th to tie the lead.
“I didn’t ever look at the leaderboard,” Lee said. “I just wanted to finish off with a birdie.”
The leading duo were one stroke in front of defending champion Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand, who had four of her seven birdies on her second nine on the way to a five-under-par 67.
Patty said she felt “a lot of positivity” as she launched her title defence.
Although she opened with a bogey at the 10th, she responded with a birdie at 11, and followed a bogey at 14 with birdies at 16 and 18 to make the turn one under.
“I really got my momentum going on the back nine,” said Patty, who birdied the second and third holes and the seventh and eighth to grab solo third.
Former world No 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand headlined a group of six players sharing fourth on 68. She was joined by Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, Germany’s Caroline Masson, Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn, England’s Georgia Hall and Australian Gabriela Ruffels.
But it was a shockingly poor start for world No 1 Ko Jin-young, who had two bogeys without a birdie in a two-over 74 that will leave her with work to do to make the cut.
South Korea’s Ko, winner of six of her last 12 events, was at a loss to explain the performance that saw an end to her streak of 34 consecutive LPGA rounds under par.
“I hit a lot of great shots,” she said. “My putting wasn’t good on the green. I couldn’t see the break as much or [calculate] speed. “Everything was wrong. I don’t know what happened.”
© Agence France-Presse