CARLSBAD, California — Mirim Lee birdied all four par-5 holes and finished with a bogey-free 7-under 65 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the Kia Classic.
Lee took the outright lead with an 8-foot putt on the par-5 fifth — her 14th hole in her afternoon round at Aviara — and hit a wedge to 3 feet to set up her final birdie on the par-5 eighth. The 24-year-old South Korean player won LPGA Tour events last year in Michigan and China.
"Today was putting," Lee said.
Lee had only 25 putts, holing 40-footers for birdies on Nos. 16 and 17.
She struggled last week in Phoenix, finishing 77th in the Founders Cup.
"I practiced a lot this week," Lee said. "I changed the grip."
Yani Tseng, winless in 70 starts since her victory in the 2012 event at nearby La Costa, had a 66. She finished with a 4-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th after hitting a 150-yard, 7-iron shot from near a fairway bunker with the ball well above her feet — and water to the right of the green.
"I never thought it was going to be that close," Tseng said. "I was a little like unbalanced, so I kind of tied my shoes a little bit. Actually, there was one second in my mind I was like, 'How about if I hit it in the water.' I was like, 'Oh, if I hit it in the water, I just go drop another ball. I got like a few birdies in my pocket and should be OK.' So I was like, 'If I make bogey, it's no big deal.'"
The Taiwanese player birdied Nos. 7-9 and made a 20-foot eagle putt from the fringe on the par-5 10th. She dropped a stroke on the par-4 14th when she missed a 3-foot par putt and rebounded with a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th.
Top-ranked Lydia Ko was two strokes back at 67 in the final event before the first major of the season, the ANA Inspiration next week in Rancho Mirage. The 17-year-old New Zealander has 10 straight top-10 finishes and has broken par in her last 25 LPGA Tour rounds — four short of Annika Sorenstam's record set in 2004 — and 28 worldwide.
"It's not easy," Ko said. "I'm trying to take one round at a time, one shot at a time, and that kind of breaks it up. a little bit. It's tough. Playing weeks back to back and all courses just being different, I think that's the hard thing, but I'm just trying to keep focused. I know that I've played well the last couple of events. It's always good to know that you're playing well. You can be confident."
Ko has two worldwide victories this year, winning the tour's Women's Australian Open and the Ladies European Tour's New Zealand Women's Open in consecutive weeks. She has six career LPGA Tour victories and 10 worldwide wins in professional events.
Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr and Lin Xiyu also shot 67.
"I think it's a course you got to be pretty patient on," Webb said. "I think the greens actually are putting the nicest they have out of the three years that we've been here, which is helpful. They're pretty slopey greens, so you have to leave yourself better, easier putts if you're going to make a lot out here. Pin-high sometimes is not even a good option. There's lots of break on them."
Second-ranked Inbee Park, No. 3 Stacy Lewis and No. 4 Hyo Joo Kim were at 68 along with Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lang, Austin Ernst, Laura Diaz, In Gee Chun, Jackie Stoelting and Karine Icher.
The 19-year-old Kim won on Sunday in Phoenix for her second LPGA Tour victory in 13 career starts. Park took last week off after winning in Singapore and finishing second in a Ladies European Tour event in China.
Lewis, second in Phoenix, had seven birdies, a bogey and double bogey on the par-4 15th.
Thompson, preparing for her title defense in the ANA Inspiration, holed out from 98 yards for eagle on the par-4 seventh.
"Downhill, a little downwind, and I landed my 55 degree about 95," Thompson said. "It one-bounced, past, went back and actually stayed on the lip for a little bit and then fell. So, pretty awesome."
Michelle Wie opened with a 69. She has an endorsement deal with title sponsor Kia.
Defending champion Anna Nordqvist shot a 72.