By Larry Fine
RANCHO MIRAGE (Reuters) – French veteran Karine Icher fired a five-under-par 67 to grab the early first-round lead on Thursday over an impressive chasing pack at the ANA Inspiration, the first women’s major of the year.
Icher birdied three of the four par-threes in taking a one-shot lead over American Michelle Wie and South Koreans Ryu So-yeon, the world number three, Park Sung-Hyun and amateur Seong Eun-jeong on a calm morning in the California desert.
Another shot back, at three-under, were Korean Jenny Shin and long-hitting American Lexi Thompson as the early starters took advantage before high winds were expected to blow across the long layout to challenge the afternoon wave.
“I’m probably the player with the most top 10s without winning,” said Icher, 38, who has five European Tour wins and 43 top 10s in the U.S. without a victory.
“I’m going to keep focused and keep my game on and try to sink some putts, and we’ll see from there.”
Wie, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion, birdied the par-three 17th to join the group on four-under that included the impressive 17-year-old Seong.
Seong rode a blistering start as she birdied the first two holes and reached four-under with a hole-in-one at the 182-yard par-three fifth, where she landed a perfect six-iron.
It was the second career ace for the young Korean, who won a junior event last year at Mission Hills.
“I have good memories of here,” said Seong, who made the traditional ANA winner’s leap into Poppie’s Pond alongside the 18th green after her 2016 junior victory.
Last year, Seong became the first player to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Junior titles in the same season.
Wie played alongside another notable amateur, 14-year-old American Lucy Li, who shot one-under 71 after qualifying by winning last week’s ANA Junior Inspiration at Mission Hills.
“I was very impressed with her game and how she handled herself out there,” said Wie, who played her first ANA Inspiration at age 13. “She was very calm and collected, and she played well.”
Late starters battling the rising winds at Mission Hills included world number one and defending champion Lydia Ko of New Zealand, number two Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, last year’s ANA runner-up, and world number four Chun In-gee of South Korea.
(Editing by Clare Lovell)