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Late birdie lifts McDonald to LPGA ANA Inspiration lead

AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) -

Ally McDonald birdied the 18th hole Thursday to seize a one-shot lead over a quartet of players after the first round of the ANA Inspiration, the first major championship on the LPGA calendar.

McDonald had broken loose atop the crowded leaderboard before a bogey at the 14th, and she managed to get her nose in front again with her seventh birdie to cap a four-under par 68 at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.

"I played the par fives really well today, which is exciting," said McDonald. "On a major championship golf course you have to take advantage of par-5s."

Sweden's Linnea Strom, American Lexi Thompson and South Koreans Ko Jin-young and Kim Hyo-joo were a stroke back on 69.

Former world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand was in a group of 10 players on 70, while current world number one Park Sung-hyun headed a group of 13 on one-under 71.

Thompson, winner of the title in 2014, set an early target with her 69 that included two bogeys and five birdies -- including back-to-back birdies to close the round.

"It was a little bit of an up-and-down day," Thompson said. "I hit some great shots and then hit some poor ones off the tee. I think I should have hit a lot more fairways.

"I made some great putts, which is always a big confidence booster for me. I think overall I just could have hit it better. But still not complaining."

Thompson may have thought her round could have been better, but not many looked like bettering it as increasing winds made the going difficult in the afternoon.

Strom said she benefitted from having former LPGA pro Sophie Gustafson on her bag, saying it helped her stay relaxed.

"That's the easiest way for me to get into my momentum," said Strom, who added that Gustafson's advice didn't hurt either.

"I think that our game is pretty similar," Strom said. "She helps me believe in going for it and hitting the longer shots. That's what I need to be able to play good and not hold back with anything.

"She knows how it is to be in a situation."

Kim Hyo-joo, who lifted a major trophy at the 2014 Evian Championship, highlighted her round with an eagle at the par-five second, her 11th hole of the day. She had four birdies and three bogeys to claim her share of second.

"My chipping was great," Kim said. "That's how I was able to get a low score."

Ko, winner of the Founders Cup in Phoenix two weeks ago, had four birdies and a bogey and said the key was not to be "greedy" on the course.

"The course is hard, so I'm thinking always, 'Hit the fairway, also green, middle of the green," she said. "Like two-putt is fine. I'm good."