Lydia Ko holds the early upper hand over her rivals for the world No 1 ranking at the latest event on the LPGA Tour.
The Kiwi golf star shot a four-under par 67 to be in a tie for fifth after her opening round at the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Virginia on Thursday (Friday NZ time).
That gave Ko a sizeable buffer over world No 2 So Yeon Ryu and third-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn, who had both completed their first rounds.
South Korea’s Ryu carded a one-under par 70 to be tied for 33rd, while Thai star Jutanugarn eventually signed for a one-over 72 and was down in a tie for 73rd.
But Ko still wasn’t entirely happy with her round.
“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.”
After a mixed start to the 2017 season, Ko came into the event under real threat of losing the No 1 ranking after 82-weeks at the top.
Ryu can claim the mantle simply by recording a higher finish than Ko, with Jutanugarn going to the top if she picked up a significantly better result than the leading pair.
Ko had five birdies and a lone bogey at the River Course at Kingsmill Resort, leaving her just two shots off tournament leader Lexi Thompson.
The American carded a six-under 65 to be one clear of three countrywoman at five-under.
Meanwhile, Kiwi men’s No 1 Danny Lee has made an improved start at the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson Classic.
In windy and challenging conditions, Lee shot an even par round of 70 to open his account at the tournament in Irving, Texas on Thursday (Friday NZ time).
The 26-year-old, who had two birdies and two bogeys in a relatively solid display, was tied 40th and six shots behind leading American pair James Hahn and Ricky Barnes.
It was a less pleasing day for the two other New Zealand players in the field.
Tim Wilkinson shot a three-over par 73 to be tied for 106th, while Steve Alker had a forgettable five-over 75 and was tied 138th.
On the European Tour, Ryan Fox was eight shots back of the leaders after firing a two-under 69 on the opening day of the Rocco Forte Open on the Italian island of Sicily.
Fox had three birdies and one bogey in a first round where scoring was hot at the Verdura Golf Club.
Northern Irishman Michael Hoey and Swede Sebastian Soderberg were tied at the top after both carding superb rounds of 10-under 61.