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 fell in love with place the first time I played it," Lewis said. "You have to be so creative and hit so many different shots. I love that.
"I play at Greg Norman's course in Florida, The Medalist. You can hit a lot of similar shots in practice there. We hit a lot of bump and runs up to the greens. That was good practice. We got some tips from him. He said to be below the hole and if we were above the hole make sure the next one was below it. And always take the shorter club if you are in between. I used that today."
Kemp had a bogey-free round.
"I love it. It's tops," Kemp said about the course. "I can see why it is Australia's best golf course. It is a privilege to have the first women's professional golf tournament here. It is awesome."
Only 22 of the 156 players broke par.
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.
She finished with a bogey on the par-4 ninth.
"It was disappointing to finish with a three-putt on the last hole," Tseng said. "It is probably the toughest hole on the course. But I am still very happy shooting 3 under today. That's 3 under on an amazing golf course. I am really excited and can't wait to go out and challenge it again."
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.
"I did not drive it great," Webb said. "Unfortunately, Royal Melbourne does this. The tee shots I hit poorly, I really paid the penalty. That started to get better as the round went on. I did not putt consistently well for the whole round. When I hit good putts, the speed was off or the line was slightly off. I'm not too disappointed with how I played. It could have been better. With the swing changes, I saw some good things out there and hopefully I'll be a little more comfortable starting tomorrow."
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.