(Reuters) - Back at the site of the biggest win of her career, and also her greatest heartbreak, Lexi Thompson used a hot putter to finish a stroke behind leader Ally McDonald after the first round of the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage on Thursday.
McDonald, who has just three career top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour, carded a four-under-par 68 to top the leaderboard in the first women’s major of the year.
Fellow American Thompson birdied the par-five 18th to join South Koreans Ko Jin-young and Kim Hyo-joo and Swede Linnea Strom on 69.
Defending champion Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden battled to a 73, one shot better than American Michelle Wie, who was five over early before righting the ship with four straight birdies.
An ample serving of rough greeted the 112-woman field and Thompson found it more often than she would have liked on a day when her driving was not the straightest.
“It was a little bit of an up-and-down day,” she told reporters. “I hit some great shots and then hit some poor ones off the tee.
“I made some great putts, which is always a big confidence booster for me. Overall I could have hit it better, but still not complaining.”
Thompson’s lone major victory came at Mission Hills in 2014, but three years later she was in tears after incurring a four-stroke penalty for a putting rules violation on the way to losing a playoff to Ryu So-yeon.
Ko, meanwhile, continued the sizzling form that has made her the hottest player in the women’s game over the past few weeks.
In her last three LPGA starts she finished second, first and third, and it was another good day at the office on Thursday.
Asked what the key to her round was, Ko kept it simple.
“I hit the fairway, so hit the green, two-putt, that’s it,” she said.
Compatriot Kim also came into the event in form after shooting 62 in the final round of the Kia Classic on Sunday.
“I really wanted to be able to take that level into this week of a major,” she said. “Everything really came together today.”
Leader McDonald, who birdied all four of the par-fives, was determined not to let herself get carried away.
“In this position that I’ve never been in it’s so easy to get ahead of yourself,” she said.
“I know that on the very first day a great round is awesome, but there is so much more golf left to play.
“I’m just excited to put a good round together in a major, and look forward to teeing it up again tomorrow.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ian Ransom/Peter Rutherford