Lincicome leads Kraft; Ochoa struggles

Brittany Lincicome hits her tee shot on the sixth hole during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Brittany Lincicome never saw a 66 coming in the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Likewise, defending champion Lorena Ochoa wasn’t expecting to open with a 73 when she headed out onto the same desert course where she was 11 strokes better three years ago.

“It was surreal, really,” Lincicome said after taking the lead in the first LPGA major of the year Thursday with her 6-under 66 at Mission Hills.

Pushed along by playing partner Ji Young Oh in a round she likened to match play, Lincicome hit 16 greens in regulation. Oh hit 14 greens and was tied for second at 67 with Angela Stanford and Brittany Lang.

Lincicome, whose best finish in a major was a tie for second here two years ago, was thinking that something around par would have made for a good day.

“If you would have told me that this morning, I would have taken it and ran,” she said about her 66. “Obviously it’s a major, so it’s going to be playing long. The rough is going to be thick. Even par or 1 or 2 under I would have been completely satisfied.”

While Lincicome and Oh fought it out, Ochoa struggled with her driver. The top-ranked Mexican star started on the 10th tee and was 2 under at the turn before carding three bogeys and no birdies on the front nine.

“I got in trouble from the tee,” said Ochoa, who had to save par after pushing her first drive of the morning to the left. “When you’re playing in a major championship, I’m not so good in the morning. I think it was a good way to start a couple under. And then I’m pretty upset that I didn’t take advantage of that.”

Ochoa hit only four fairways.

Three years ago, Ochoa opened with a 62 at Mission Hills to tie an LPGA major championship record.

Ochoa was impressed with the low scores.

“I think it’s really good golf with the pin placement we had today, and I am surprised,” she said. “I think 3, 4 under is good, but I saw the sixes and that’s very impressive.”

Lincicome and Oh started on No. 10. Lincicome birdied Nos. 10, 11, 15 and 18, while Oh birdied 11, 14 and 18. Remarkably, they each went birdie-birdie-bogey-birdie-birdie after making the turn.

“It was like match play, nine holes straight,” Lincicome said. “She would make a 30-footer for birdie and I would top it. I would make one and she would come on top of mine. So it was really just a fun day.

“I was hitting the ball really well, keeping it in play, which has a been a little bit of a struggle lately, and then putting, I was making almost everything I looked at.”

Stanford eagled the par-5 18th by hitting a 7-wood to 20 feet.

Kristy McPherson shot a 68. Tied for sixth at 69 were Ji-Hee Lee, Song-Hee Kim, Yani Tseng, Christina Kim, Katherine Hull and Jee Young Lee.

Tseng was the LPGA Rookie of the Year in 2008. Just 19 at the time, she became the youngest player ever to win the LPGA Championship.

Michelle Wie, meanwhile, watched her 20-foot birdie putt roll into the cup on her final hole, pumped her fist and waved to the gallery.

After spending all day scrambling to save par around Mission Hills, Wie finished the opening round with a 1-under 71 — in a tie for 18th.

The way she was missing fairways, particularly early on, she could have been 4 or 5 strokes over. But her short game saved her and gave her confidence in her first appearance in this tournament in three years. Wie made several putts of 6 to 8 feet during her round of three birdies and two bogeys.

“I feel very confident and grateful that they went in,” Wie said after a birdie on the par-5 ninth. “Hopefully tomorrow they’ll be for birdie.”

Wie is back at Mission Hills for the first time since 2006, when she had a chance to win the Kraft Nabisco with a 25-foot eagle chip from just off the 18th green. It went 10 feet by the hole, and she missed the birdie putt to get into a playoff.

The 19-year-old Stanford sophomore, still seeking her first tour victory, is making her third start since earning her LPGA card.

Wie was in the second pairing to go off on No. 10 Thursday morning and had to scramble from the start after missing her first three fairways.

“It was a little sketchy in the beginning, but I felt confident with my putts,” she said. “You always get that same jittery feeling when you play in the majors.”

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