Pernilla Lindberg leads ANA Inspiration, but Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson are also off to good starts
Major championships have not been kind to Jessica Korda. She has won five times on the LPGA Tour, but in 36 majors she has missed the cut or withdrawn 16 times and has only two top-10 finishes.
The ANA Inspiration, the first major of the year, was not kind to Lexi Thompson a year ago. She was assessed a controversial four-shot penalty during the final round after a viewer called to say she had played her ball from the wrong spot on a green the day before. It probably cost her the tournament.
Thursday in the first round of the ANA Inspiration, both players were long off the tee and accurate into the greens, and put themselves in the heat of competition on the 6,691-yard Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club.
Korda, 25, got off to a ferocious start, with birdies on seven of her first 11 holes to shoot a five-under-par 67. Thompson, a 23-year-old who won this event in 2014, shot 68, the only blemish on her card a bogey on the par-five ninth, her final hole.
Pernilla Lindberg, looking for her first victory in her 11th year on the tour, stands alone atop the leaderboard with a bogey-free 65. Beatriz Recari and Ayako Uehara are one shot back.
Korda is in a three-way tie for fourth with Ha Na Jang and Swiss amateur Albane Valenzuela, a sophomore at Stanford.
Thompson is in a six-way tie for seventh, three shots behind Lindberg, with Cristie Kerr, Brittany Altomare, Sung Hyun Park, Chella Choi and In Gee Ghun.
Korda has spoken about trying to deal with the added pressure and distractions that go hand in hand with playing in majors, but her main distraction Thursday came from her mini goldendoodle puppy and her 8:14 a.m. starting time. Everything else was a breeze.
“I had a totally new dynamic this morning,” she said. “I had to think about what time I needed to get up to make sure I had enough time to let Charlie out to go the bathroom and make sure he had enough time to eat. It’s so nice to have a puppy with you to distract you.”
Apparently, distractions on the course were at a minimum. She birdied the first four holes, five of the first seven, and added another on No. 9. Then on the 499-yard par-five 11th — after going back and forth with her caddie on whether to lay up or go for the green on her second shot — she hit a driver just over the green and two-putted for another birdie.
She got her eighth and final birdie with a 15-foot downhill putt on the par-five 18th after bogeys on the previous two holes.
“I was super surprised it didn’t spin back,” she said of her wedge into the green. “It was a really fast putt; I was just hoping to get it close.”
Korda, who is ninth on the tour in driving distance this year and first in putting average, scoring average and rounds under par (12 of 13), hit 13 of 14 fairways Thursday and averaged 296 yards off the tee on the two holes where drives were measured.
“I had a good day,” she said. “But it’s only Thursday.”
In December, Korda had major surgery on her jaw that involved inserting 27 screws to correct an overbite that had caused headaches and jaw pain for several years. She hadn’t won since 2015. But she returned to play in February and won in Thailand by four shots, shooting a 62 in the second round and 25 under par for the tournament.
“I honestly didn’t realize how much it affected me until I got the surgery done,” she said. “I’m just a happier person now. I wake up, no headaches. ... Now I get to wake up pain-free every day.”
Thompson was walking off the 12th green on Sunday last year when she was told by an official she was being penalized four shots. She asked if it was a joke, broke down, and stepped on to the 13th tee two shots off the lead rather than two ahead. She worked her way back to a playoff against So Yeon Ryu before losing.
Despite the lingering emotion of the incident, she went on to have an exceptional 2017, with two victories and 10 top-10 finishes.
Michelle Wie, paired with Thompson, said she was battling dizziness early in her round and had two double-bogeys and a bogey in her first six holes. She is tied for 94th with a 75.
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