Minjee Lee fires at LPGA Tour event in New Jersey
Defending champion Minjee Lee has staged a late charge to be well in the hunt once again after the first round of the LPGA Tour's Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey.
The Australian superstar made four birdies in her last eight holes at Upper Montclair Country Club to card a four-under-par 68 and sit tied for third.
Sei Young Kim leads the way after a six-under 66, one shot in front of fellow South Korean Hae Ran Ryu, with Lee lurking ominously among eight players two strokes behind.
Former world No.1s Jin Young Ko and Atthaya Thitikul and dual major winner Stacey Lewis are among those batch of players.
Lee so far this season has struggled to reprise the spectacular form that vaulted the Perth ace to last year's title plus the US Women's Open and 2022 major player-of-the-year honours.
Starting on the 10th tee on Thursday, the world No.6 posted three birdies on her outward nine.
But each time Lee gifted the shot back with bogeys on the very next hole before playing a flawless inward nine to climb the leaderboard.
Fellow Australian Grace Kim, who won her maiden LPGA Tour title last month in Hawaii, also made a fine start with a three-under 69 to be sharing 12th.
Steph Kyriacou, who partnered up with Lee, Hannah Green and Sarah Kemp to help Australia to the final of last week's LPGA teams' match play event in San Francisco, had a round of 70 to be tied 25th and just four shots off the pace.
Kemp is joint 30th after signing for a 71.
American world No.1 Nelly Korda and New Zealand's world No.2 Lydia Ko share 45th after shooting even-par 72s.
But Green, possibly on a comedown after also winning her third LPGA Tour event two weeks in Los Angeles, faces a battle to make the halfway cut following a four-over-par round of 76.
Leader Kim is chasing Founders title after capturing the 2016 edition held in Arizona, and is also aiming for her first LPGA Tour victory since 2020.
She made a blazing start on Thursday, including a streak of four consecutive birdies at 12, 13, 14 and 15.
"This course is (one of my) favourite courses," said Kim, who holds an 18-hole lead for the first time since the 2022 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
"This course has kind of lot of trees on both sides, and keeping (the ball in) the fairway, it's really important this week."