THE WOODLANDS, Texas (AP) — Peiyun Chien shot a 5-under 67 on a rainy Thursday in the transplanted Chevron Championship to take the first-round lead in the LPGA Tour’s first major of the year.
Unable to find a sponsor willing to add to the half-century run at Mission Hills, the tournament — best known as the Dinah Shore — bolted the California desert for the woods of suburban Houston under a six-year deal with Chevron.
The 32-year-old Chien, who is from Taiwan, had six birdies — including four in a five-hole span on Nos. 4-8 — at The Club at Carlton Woods.
Second-ranked Nelly Korda was among six players and three Americans tied for second at 68. Korda is fully healthy after missing four months and a lot of momentum last year with a blood clot in her arm that required surgery.
She had three bogeys but made up for it with seven birdies and four in her last six holes, including the last two.
“I took advantage of the par 5s today,” she said. “I think I birdied them all, so that was important, as I’m a bit of a longer hitter. Overall, I played pretty well. It was nice to finish the way I did with just a tap-in birdie.”
Chien finished fourth in her last tournament after not making the cut in the previous two.
“I hit a really good wedge shot on 4 and then I hit a 6-foot putt, and the next hole I made a 30-foot birdie,” she said. “Then the next hole I hit a 9-iron to the green, hit it to like 6 feet and made another good putt.”
The weather was clear for most of the morning, but light to heavy rain fell through a big chunk of the afternoon. Play continued through the rain until being suspended at 3:38 p.m. for almost an hour because of thunderstorms in the area.
Australian Stephanie Kyriacou also tied for second after sinking an eagle on the 18th hole. She was among the group who played in the afternoon and said the rain made the greens softer.
“It only kind of rained for about four or five holes for us, and then it got called off,” she said. “And then it didn’t rain for the rest, so I guess we were kind of lucky with what the weather was predicting. We kind of got away with it a little bit.”
Americans Marina Alex and Lilia Vu also shot 68. Alex thought the change in venue created an interesting dynamic for the tournament.
“No one really has all that much of an advantage or years and years of experience playing a course and being familiar with it and maybe they like certain places over others,” she said. “So, I think it really puts everyone on the same ground, and I enjoy that.”
Vu, who started on the back nine, had a chance to move into a tie for the lead after hitting an eagle on the eighth hole. But her putt for birdie on her last hole was off and she settled for par to tie for second.
“You really have to focus on each shot,” she said. “You can’t really get ahead of yourself because it’s quite a demanding golf course.”
Japan’s Ayaka Furue and South Korea’s Chella Choi both had five birdies to round out the group tied for second place.
Chevron increased the prize purse to $5.1 million this year after raising it from $3 to $5 million last year.
Eila Galitsky, a 16-year-old amateur, was tied for ninth after a 70. She earned a spot in this tournament and two other majors by winning the Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific last month.
The high school sophomore, who started playing golf at age 8, entered the tournament with a goal of finishing as the top-ranked amateur.
There were some unwelcome visitors to the course after lunch when a herd of about 10 deer ran across the 18th green.
The animals soon ran to the edge of the course where they stopped for a bit before being shooed into the nearby woods by a volunteer.
Top-ranked Lydia Ko was tied for 23rd at 71 in her quest to win a major for the first time since 2016 after an up and down round with three birdies and three bogeys. After starting on the back nine, she birdied on the ninth hole to finish under par after shooting bogeys on holes seven and eight.
“To be honest, I struggled the first few times I played around this course, and I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” she said. “But I feel like when you start playing, even if you don’t hit it the best … you can just manage your way around and not try to make it perfect, just try to shoot the best score.”
Georgia Hall, the winner of the 2018 Women’s British Open who has finished second in two of her last three tournaments, opened with a 70.
American Lexi Thompson had a 74 in a disappointing round. Her performance came a day after she said she was struggling with a sore right wrist after hitting too much at home in preparation for the tournament.
Defending champion Jennifer Kupcho was tied for 37th after a 72.
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