Minjee Lee has to play catch-up at Evian

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Minjee Lee has her work cut out to successfully defend her Evian Championship title after failing to cash in an opening round birdie-fest in the French major.

The Australian star, currently the form player in the women's game, finds herself already having to play catch-up as she seeks her third major crown following her first-round, one under par 70 on Thursday.

It wasn't a bad round by any means but it's left the Perth player already seven shots off the red-hot pace being set by Japan's Ayaka Furue, whose eight under par 63 featured nine birdies.

Lee is also well adrift of some of her most formidable rivals, who started in impressive form on a beautiful, baking day at Evian-les-Bains designed for low scoring.

After winning the Women's US Open last month and finishing joint-second in the Women's PGA, Lee says she's been "in a good place" with her game.

And so she was looking forward to a fast start at the Evian, her breakthrough major which she won last year from seven shots back in the final round to beat Lee Jeongeun in a play-off.

Also buoyed by watching Cam Smith's British Open Championship triumph last weekend, a birdie at her opening hole in ideal early-morning conditions promised a lot for Lee.

But despite opportunities, she then had a frustrating wait to make another birdie until the 11th, which was sandwiched by bogeys at both the 10th and 12th.

Another birdie at the 17th at least got her score into the red but Lee's total left her only in a tie for 39th by the end of the day after her rivals all made hay.

Brooke Henderson, the 2016 Women's PGA champ, and US Olympic champion Nelly Korda both shot seven-under 64s to sit just behind the rising Japanese 22-year-old Furue.

American Cheyenne Knight was one behind on 65, with Korean world No.1 Jin Young Ko and New Zealand's two-time major winner Lydia Ko among a group of five who recorded 66s.

Gee Chun, who won the Women's PGA last month, was another strong starter, lying in a tie for 10th at four under.

The centre of attention, as so often, was Korda, the former world No.1 who continued her impressive comeback after time out following surgery on a blood clot in her arm.

This is her fifth event since returning to action a month ago and her bogey-free round, which featured seven birdies, left her smiling.

She even had a dip in the water when her approach shot at the par-five 18th - her ninth of the day - rolled down a bank on the front right of the green into the edge of a lake.

Judging it possible to splash it out, Korda removed her shoes, waded in, and splashed to the edge of the green. "It was really slimy," she laughed, reflecting on how she still ended up making par.

The leading Australian was 36-year-old Sarah Kemp, whose two-under 69 put her in a tie for 27th, while her fellow Sydneysider Steph Kyriacou enjoyed a spectacular finish with five birdies in the last eight holes to get to one under, alongside Lee.

Perth's Hannah Green, the 2019 Women's PGA champion, never really recovered from a disappointing start and finished at one over, tied for 84th, while Su Oh will also be battling to make the cut on Friday at two over, tied for 97th.

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