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Lee starts in style to be three shots behind leader

Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

Australian golfer Minjee Lee is just three shots from the lead after the first round of the T-Mobile Match Play tournament.

Lee, the world No.5, had five birdies and two bogeys to card a three-under 69 in North Las Vegas on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT).

She could have been forgiven for thinking she was back home in Perth, Western Australia, because she was accompanied on her round by her brother and fellow professional golfer, Min Woo Lee, currently ranked No.32 in the world.

Lee was three shots behind South Korea's Sei Young Kim, who took advantage of ideal playing conditions to shoot a six-under 66.

ang="en" dir="ltr">Lil bro @Minwoo27Lee is tagging along today 🤪👋 pic.twitter.com/M6RX2GXv8W— LPGA (@LPGA) April 3, 2024

Las Vegas-area residents Danielle Kang and Rose Zhang were each just a stroke behind.

Top-ranked Nelly Korda has some work to do to extend her three-tournament winning streak after shooting a 73. Lorena Ochoa, in 2008, was the last LPGA Tour player to win four in a row.

The top 65 players plus ties after the first two days will advance to the third round, then the top eight players will compete in matchplay over the weekend.

This tournament was entirely a matchplay event in its first three years, but the format changed this year and attracted easily the strongest field in its short history.

Fifteen players broke par in the first round.

Kim, the 2020 Player of the Year, began brilliantly with birdies on six of her first 10 holes. She answered a bogey on the par-four 14th with a birdie two holes later on a par-five.

"The front nine I didn't expect to play that well," Kim said.

Shadow Creek is Kang's home course, but she isn't assuming anything this week. She finished in the top five in the world in 2019 and 2020 and in the top 20 the following two years, but announced in 2022 that a tumour was discovered on her spine.

Her ranking dropped to 48th last year and she entered this tournament No.59, so a strong showing this week could get the 31-year-old headed in the right direction.

Zhang doesn't call Shadow Creek home, having played on the course just twice, but she gets to stay home this week.

After becoming the first woman to win college golf's national championship twice, in 2022 and 2023, she left Stanford last year and then won her first LPGA Tour event. That only increased the already lofty expectations for Zhang.

But Zhang, 20, is still searching for her second victory. Ranked 23rd, maybe that will happen this week. Finishing the first round with four consecutive birdies certainly doesn't hurt.

"I gave myself many opportunities," Zhang said.