LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Nelly Korda closed with a five-foot birdie putt to fire a six-under par 66 and seize a one-stroke lead after Thursday's (Sept 10) opening round of the LPGA ANA Inspiration tournament.
The 22-year-old American daughter of Czech tennis star Petr Korda, the 1998 Australian Open champion, went one stroke under her best prior round at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.
Korda credited her success in the second major of a Covid-19 disrupted season to more putting work on practice greens.
"At the end of the day, golf is all about confidence," Korda said. "If I give myself shorter par putts, it makes it a lot easier."
Korda, whose best showing in the event was a share of 13th, said hot summer desert conditions had made the course different from its usual April set-up but no less formidable.
"It's very firm out here. Very different," she said. "It's like a different monster actually."
Korda won last year's Women's Australian Open and French Ladies Open while defending her title at the LPGA Swinging Skirts Taiwan event.
Korda opened with birdies at the first and third holes before taking her lone bogey at the fourth. She birdied the seventh, the par-5 ninth and par-5 11th as well before closing with birdies at 16 and the par-5 18th.
South Korean Chun In-gee, whose major titles include the 2015 US Women's Open and 2016 Evian Championship, and Sweden's Madelene Sagstrom, whose only win came in January at Boca Rio, were second on 67.
"I really tried not to be hard on myself on the course," Chun said. "I wanted to have fun out there and work really well and I made a great round."
After a bogey at seven, her 16th hole of the day, Sagstrom sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth and saved par from deep left rough at nine to stay one back.
"Staying in the fairway is really important. I'm happy I kept it in play to get that birdie back on eight," Sagstrom said. "My game is developing every week. I've worked hard to stay on top of my short game."
A pack on 68 included Malaysia's Kelly Tan, American Danielle Kang, Canada's Brooke Henderson, Denmark's Nanna Madsen and China's Liu Yu.
"Just hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens and kept giving myself the chances for birdies," Tan said. "Just really good driving day overall." World number two Kang, who won the LPGA's first two return events last month, closed with a birdie.
"It's more so just having the confidence in my golf gane, having the belief I can pull off the shots," she said. "I made some good putts."
Henderson, playing on her 23rd birthday, began on the back nine and birdied four of her last eight holes to leap up the leaderboard.
"It wasn't exactly the start I wanted but I made a few birdies on the (second) nine," she said. "It was a good day and a solid start."
Her sister was among the caddies who rode in a cart to help cope with the heat.
"We got pretty lucky to be early off, so I feel like the temperature was pretty fine because I live and practice in Florida," said Liu. "I'm definitely very happy about my start, just staying very steady out there."