(Reuters) - American teenager Lexi Thompson compiled a brilliant eight-under-par 64 to tie South Korean Pak Se Ri for the halfway lead at the $2 million Kraft Nabisco Championship on Friday.
Thompson, unhappy with her putting on Thursday, found her touch on the greens to plunder eight birdies in her final 13 holes and join Pak at seven-under 137 in perfect morning conditions at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, California.
They lead the first LPGA major of the year by one stroke from American Michelle Wie, who missed a golden birdie chance at her final hole, and are two in front of American Cristie Kerr and first round leader Shanshan Feng, of China.
The three frontrunners all played in the calm morning conditions, while Kerr and Feng had to contend with an afternoon breeze.
Thompson became what was then the youngest ever LPGA winner at the age of 16 in 2011 and she added two more victories last year.
A major title is her next target.
“Obviously this is one of my main goals, to win a major this year, especially the Kraft Nabisco would be a huge honor,” Thompson told reporters.
“I struggled a bit yesterday on the greens, just struggled to get my putts to the hole, but I figured out some things after my round yesterday with my putting and some of my iron shots.”
Thompson was only three when Pak won her first major championship in 1998. Now 36, Pak has won just about everything worth winning, except for this tournament.
She has not won an LPGA event since 2010 but is showing glimpses of her former greatness following a long winter break back home in South Korea.
“I‘m very happy about the first round and today,” Pak said after finishing in style by knocking in a three-foot birdie putt at the par-five 18th.
”I’ve been here so many times I know what exactly I need to do. That gives me a lot more pressure, but this week just feels really calm.
“Everything seems to feel comfortable. It just makes (it) so easy. I think this probably best playing ever I have.”
Wie also has designs on the trophy after a solid 71 that included just two birdies and one bogey.
Her career achievements are not yet commensurate with her fame -- the 24-year-old from Hawaii has just two LPGA victories -- but she finally looks on the verge of fulfilling her promise after struggling with injuries and a loss of confidence.
“It’s fun being in contention. Two days is a long way to go but at the same time I am very excited,” said Wie.
“It felt good to start with a birdie. After that I just couldn’t get anything going but I held on (and) I‘m happy with 71.”
Reporting By Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, Editing by Gene Cherry