Ko look­ing for bar­rage of birdies to im­prove and keep up with the field

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Lexi Thomp­son had six birdies in a seven- hole stretch and fin­ished with a 6- un­der 65 yes­ter­day to take the first- round lead in the LPGA Kingsmill Cham­pi­onship.

Play­ing her third tour­na­ment since los­ing the ANA In­spi­ra­tion in a play­off af­ter be­ing pe­nalised four strokes for a rules vi­o­la­tion that a TV viewer spot­ted, Thomp­son had a one- stroke lead over US Sol­heim Cup team­mates Ge­rina Piller and Brit­tany Lin­ci­come and young Amer­i­can An­gel Yin in Vir­ginia.

Top- ranked Kiwi Ly­dia Ko was two strokes back at 67 along with Sarah Jane Smith and Gi­u­lia Moli­naro.

“I don’t think I was hit­ting the ball fan­tas­tic, so there is a lit­tle bit of im­prove­ment to do there,” Ko said. “The girls are play­ing great, so I know that I need to try and keep up, and to be in con­tention, I need to make a lot of birdies out there.”

Thomp­son played her open­ing nine in even par with a birdie on 11 and a bo­gey on 17, then birdied No 1 and Nos 3- 7 on Kingsmill Re­sort’s River Course.

“The sec­ond nine was pretty crazy,” Thomp­son said. “I hit some great shots and rolled a few good putts, so def­i­nitely helps out my con­fi­dence.”

Thomp­son played along­side Piller and de­fend­ing cham­pion Ariya Ju­tanu­garn.

“It al­ways helps to see the other play­ers in your group play well,” Thomp­son said about Piller. “She played great today, too. She struck it very well and rolled a lot of great putts. It’s some­thing that we feed off each other with.” Ju­tanu­garn shot a 72. On Wed­nes­day, Thomp­son be­gan a char­i­ta­ble part­ner­ship with the SEAL Legacy Foun­da­tion called the Lexi Legacy Chal­lenge, com­plet­ing her first parachute jump by land­ing on the first tee for her pro- am round. She made her sky div­ing de­but in tan­dem with a Navy SEAL.

“It was an un­be­liev­able ex­pe­ri­ence,” Thomp­son said. “Sup­port­ing the SEAL Legacy Foun­da­tion is my No 1, and just the mil­i­tary in gen­eral. But the only way I would jump out of a per­fectly good plane is with a SEAL on my back. There was noth­ing like it. Words can’t de­scribe the feel­ing. It was just like a feel­ing of free­dom jump­ing out.”

Piller had six birdies and a bo­gey.

“It’s al­ways good to get off to that kind of start and get com­fort­able,” Piller said. “The greens are rolling phe­nom­e­nal. The course is in the best shape I’ve ever seen it. Just happy to be un­der par and look­ing for­ward to to­mor­row.”

Lin­ci­come had five birdies in a bo­gey- free round. She won the sea­son- open­ing event in the Ba­hamas.

“I think it’s best I’ve ever seen it,” Lin­ci­come said about the course. “The greens are so fast. If you get above the hole you got to be re­ally care­ful.”

Pic­ture / AP

Top- ranked Kiwi Ly­dia Ko is two shots off the pace.

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