Stephenson, Lee shoot 63s to share LPGA ShopRite lead

New York (AFP) –


American Lauren Stephenson fired an eight-under par 63, the lowest round of her LPGA career, to share the lead with South Korea's Lee Mi-hyang after Thursday's opening round of the ShopRite Classic.

Stephenson, a 23-year-old former US college standout at Alabama, made an eagle, eight birdies and two bogeys at Seaview in Galloway, New Jersey.

"I feel amazing," Stephenson said. "It was a beautiful day out, the weather was amazing and the golf was really good on top of that.

"I got some good lucky shots out there, but I also played some good golf. It was really nice to see hard work paying off."

She was matched in the late afternoon by 53rd-ranked Lee, who closed a bogey-free round with back-to-back birdies to match Stephenson for the lead.

"It was really good start for me the first round," Lee said. "Just want to keep doing my best. I didn't get any bad shots and bad putts, so everything was good. That's why I shot 8-under par."

Lee, a 27-year-old from Seoul, seeks her third career LPGA title after the 2014 Mizuno Classic in Japan and the 2017 Scottish Open.

"I have experience tied for the lead the first round before, but anyway just I have three more rounds left," Lee said. "I have to just concentrate on my golf and then just keep going.

"I don't want to change anything and I don't want to think about any more bigger than just right now."

Japan's Nasa Hataoka and American Ryann O'Toole shared third on 64 with American Jennifer Song another stroke adrift.

Stephenson shared eighth in last year's Vic Open in Australia in her rookie season LPGA debut for her only top-10 tour effort so far.

She birdied four of the first five holes Thursday, took a bogey at the eighth, then bounced back by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies.

"I was really happy with how I was hitting it," Stephenson said. "Kind of died off in the middle between ending on nine, and so when I turned to 10 I was like, 'All right, this is my special day."

On the par-4 14th, she found the rough off the tee but then blasted a pitching wedge from 137 yards and the ball rolled into the cup for an eagle, although she didn't learn that until later.

"I made a really good swing and I was just super happy with it being short of the pin. Then I think it just keep trickled right in," Stephenson said.

She sandwiched birdies at 16 and 18 around a bogey at 17 for the lead.

Lee birdied the par-5 third and par-4 fourth, added another at the par-3 seventh and then began her back nine with three consecutive birdies before her closing pair to match Stephenson.