Rancho Mirage, CA – Amy Yang posted the best score Thursday in the opening round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but in the race for the first major title of the LPGA season, Lindsey Wright and world No. 1 Yani Tseng are close behind.
Yang took the lead by firing a six-under 66, which bettered the 67 that Wright carded earlier Thursday on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club.
Wright is alone in second, while 2010 champion Tseng sits third after posting a 68. Paula Creamer is in a group of seven players tied for fourth at three- under.
Yang has never won on the LPGA Tour, but it's not surprising to see her in first. The 22-year-old won on the Ladies European Tour as a teenager, and has performed well in majors, with five career top-10s.
She placed fourth at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February and has seemingly been building toward a breakthrough victory since.
"Playing on the LPGA Tour was my dream since I started to play golf, and I always wanted to have a win on the LPGA Tour," Yang said. "I think the difference (is) all the greatest players are here playing on the LPGA Tour. I think it's a stronger field, and I think I have to be mentally stronger."
Defending champion Stacy Lewis, whose victory last year was her first official win on the LPGA Tour, struggled to a two-over 74 on Thursday. She stumbled to four consecutive bogeys before the turn to fall behind, and nearly got back to par on the back nine.
However, a closing bogey dropped her back to two-over and into a share of 60th place.
Tseng entered this tournament as the heavy favorite, and for good reason. She has 15 LPGA Tour victories, including five majors, and has titled three times in five events this season.
The 23-year-old star is coming off back-to-back victories at the LPGA Founders Cup and Kia Classic, but is currently staring up at Wright and Yang.
Wright, one of the first players off the 10th tee, was sitting at even par after recording one birdie and one bogey on the back nine. But she caught fire, sinking three birdies in a row after making the turn.
She then made four consecutive pars -- including an up-and-down save at No. 7 -- before draining two more birdies. Wright ended her round by hitting a sand wedge to about six feet and rolling in the putt.
The round was a good one for Wright, who only recently returned to the LPGA Tour after struggling with depression.
She said the issues that led to her depression came to a head at the end of 2009, which was a successful season -- she placed in the top four at both the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship.
But Wright explained that depression was a "slippery slope" and happened quickly, affecting her life and golf career.
"It really impacts you physically, and playing on this tour, coming out and trying to play, grinding it out each week when you're not sleeping and you can't concentrate or focus and the other symptoms with it, it just gets you down, and it's a bit of a nightmare," Wright said.
Life on tour had a detrimental effect on Wright, who stepped away from the game last October, saying she felt "smothered by it." Wright said she wasn't sure if she would return, but picked her clubs up in January and came back in an improved mental state.
In February, she won ISPS Handa New Zealand Women's Open and has been open about her depression.
"I'm happy, and I don't feel like I'm swimming with weights and dragging around 10 pounds of excess baggage," Wright said. "I sleep better and I'm happier, and I'm surrounding myself with good friends, and I'm talking to people ... I'm lucky to be sitting here now and very happy to be feeling the way I am."
The 32-year-old turned in a stellar round Thursday, and entered the clubhouse with a definitive advantage.
But Yang led the afternoon wave and quickly climbed toward Wright. She made the turn at three under after a front nine that included four birdies and one bogey, and birdied three of her first four holes on the back nine.
At the par-four 10th and par-five 11th she made putts of about eight feet to get to five-under. Two holes later, she drained a chip shot from just off the green to take the outright lead.
Yang bogeyed the 14th, but made a 12-footer for birdie at 15 to get back into sole possession of first. The South Korean parred out to stay there.
Tseng was playing several groups behind Yang and started to rise on the leaderboard. She was sitting at five-under after the 14th, having rolled in three birdies in four holes. But she followed that run with a bogey and never caught up.
"I was really disappointed today because I don't hit many good shots and I don't leave myself lots of birdie chances out there," Tseng said. "Kind of a little upset I don't have good distance -- my second shots I don't have good distance control, so that's why I don't have many birdie chances today out there."
A shot behind Tseng sits Creamer's group at three-under. Nicole Castrale, Jodi Ewart, Katherine Hull, Hee Kyung Seo, Sun Young Yoo and Haeji Kang also carded 69s Thursday.
NOTES: Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak is in a group tied for 11th at two- under...Amateurs Ariya Jutanugarn, Jaye Marie Green and Charley Hull all shot one-under 71.