Lewis, Kemp share lead at Royal Melbourne

Stacy Lewis during the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Stacy Lewis during the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

MELBOURNE, Australia — American Stacy Lewis and Australia’s Sarah Kemp shared the Women’s Australian Open lead at 4-under 69 on Thursday, leaving top-ranked Yani Tseng a stroke back in her bid to win the event for the third straight year.

Lewis, the Kraft Nabisco winner last year, had six birdies and two bogeys in the LPGA Tour opener at historic Royal Melbourne, the 2011 Presidents Cup venue that is hosting a women’s professional event for the first time.

“I’m much more confident, just with the year I’ve had,” Lewis said. “I had such a consistent year. I was in contention quite a bit and you just get comfortable there. You don’t worry when you’re a couple under and you see your name on the leaderboard and it’s not that big of a deal.”

Kemp had a bogey-free round.

Tseng won the tournament, sanctioned this year by the LPGA Tour for the first time, the last two seasons at Commonwealth Golf Club. The Taiwanese star went on to win 12 worldwide titles last year, including major victories in the LPGA Championship and Women’s British Open.

Long-hitting American Brittany Lincicome, a two-time winner last season on the LPGA Tour, and Paraguay’s Julieta Granada matched Tseng with a 70 in the event also sanctioned by Australian Ladies Professional Golf and the Ladies European Tour.

American teen star Lexi Thompson opened with a 74. Fourteen-year-old New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko also had a 74. She won the New South Wales Open two weeks ago to become the youngest winner of a sanctioned professional tour event.

Many top players struggled on the sand-belt course. Four-time winner Karrie Webb and fourth-ranked Cristie Kerr shot 75, Morgan Pressel had a 76, and second-ranked Suzann Pettersen and fellow European Solheim Cup star Sophie Gustafson shot 80. Pettersen’s score was her second-highest in LPGA Tour play, following an 81 in the third round of the 2007 Evian Masters.

Laura Diaz birdied the opening hole and was 1 under through six, then played the final 12 holes in 10 over — eight bogeys and a double bogey — to finish at 82.

The Netherlands’ Christel Boeljon, the Australian Ladies Masters winner last week, had a 74.

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