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April 4, 2019
AP Sports Writer

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Lexi Thompson birdied the final two holes Thursday for a 3-under 69 and a share of ANA Inspiration lead halfway through the opening round of the first major championship of the year.

The 2014 champion was tied with Jin Young Ko and Hyo Joo Kim after the morning wave at Mission Hills, the tree-lined course made more difficult this year with thick rough, tighter fairways and some lengthened holes.

Top-ranked Sung Hyun Park, Nelly Korda, Inbee Park, Brooke Henderson and Michelle Wie played in the afternoon.

Thompson birdied the difficult par-3 17th, with the pin on the far right side, then hit a wedge close on the par-5 18th after caddie Benji Thompson talked her into hitting a lower-lofted club.

“I wanted to hit my 50 degree, which was max what the yardage was,” Thompson said. “He was like, ‘No, just chip the 47, take the spin off, in case a gust does come up.’ Sure enough, it did. Just chipped up there. I was like, ‘Thank you so much, Benji.’ That’s what a great caddie does. He’s there for me to play aggressive and call me off shots that need to be called off.”

She had five birdies and two bogeys, the first on the par-5 second.

“I just tried to stay into it,” Thompson said. “I made a lot of clutch putts on the back nine to save par. Going to go out and hit a few balls on the range, get everything sorted, and just go out there confidently tomorrow.”

Fellow major champion Kim eagled the second — her 11th hole of the day — and had four birdies and three bogeys.

“My chipping was great,” Kim said. “That’s how I was able to get a low score.”

Ko had four birdies and a bogey. She won the Founders Cup two weeks ago in Phoenix.

“I don’t have greed on the course,” Ko said. “Course is hard, so I’m thinking always, ‘Hit the fairway, also green, middle of the green. Like two-putt is fine. I’m good.’”

Playing partner Jessica Korda had seven birdies in an adventurous 70. She was tied with 2016 winner Lydia Ko, Cristie Kerr, Jane Park, Lizette Salas, Amy Yang and Lauren Stephenson.

Coming off a second-place tie in Phoenix in her return from a left forearm injury, Jessica Korda also had a double bogey after driving out-of-bounds on the par-4 third and three bogeys.

“A serious roller-coaster,” she said. “Glad I got off it on 18. It was a crazy day. I literally had everything you could possibly have. ... It’s really tough, especially if you hit it in the rough. Even around the greens you just don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Lydia Ko matched playing partner Thompson with a birdie on 18.

“You just have to play smart,” Lydia Ko said. “If you are in not so good position, try and not get yourself out of it.”

The 41-year-old Kerr dropped out of the lead with a bogey on the 17th.

“We’ve never seen it tucked on the right side that much,” Kerr said. “You miss the green, it’s just super awkward.”

Sei Young Kim made a 10 on No. 18 in a 78. After laying up on the par 5, she twice hit into the water and was penalized a stroke for dropping from the wrong height. Kim instinctively held out her arm and dropped at shoulder-height, but the modernized Rules of Golf that began this year require drops to be knee-height.

Stacy Lewis birdied the 18th for a 71.

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