Stephenson, Lee top Shoprite LPGA Classic leaderboard

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GALLOWAY, N.J. (AP) — Lauren Stephenson holed out from the rough from 137 yards for eagle on the par-4 14th and shot an 8-under 63 on Thursday for a share of the Shoprite LPGA Classic lead with Mi Hyang Lee.

Stephenson, the 23-year-old former Clemson and Alabama player in her second season on the LPGA Tour, birdied four of the first five holes and finished the morning round on Seaview’s Bay Course with eight birdies and two bogeys.

“It was a beautiful day out,” Stephenson said. “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 kind of hard work paying off.”

She used a pitching wedge for the eagle.

“I was in the rough and I assumed it was going to skip forward,” Stephenson said. “I just saw the bounce and I thought it had stopped and I was happy with that because I was worried it was going to skip through the green.”

Lee, the 27-year-old South Korean player who won the last of her two LPGA Tour titles in 2017, birdied the final two holes in a bogey-free afternoon round.

“Was really good start for me,” Lee said. “I really look forward to he next three rounds. Just want to keep doing my best. Today everything was good.”

Ryann O’Toole and Nasa Hataoka were a stroke back.

“I just feel like today was a smooth round.” O’Toole said. “I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. I told myself beginning of this week to stay patient.”

Jennifer Song shot 65, and Katherine Kirk was at 66 with Patty Tavatanakit, Brittany Altomare, Ashleigh Buhai, 81 Lindy Duncan and Jenny Shin.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson, winless since the June event last year, opened with a 67. Thompson played alongside two-time tournament champions Stacy Lewis and Anna Nordqvist. Lewis shot 70, and Nordqvist 71.

Georgia Hall, the Cambia Portland Classic winner two weeks ago, matched Thompson at 67.

Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson, paired together three weeks after Mirim Lee beat them in a playoff in the major ANA Inspiration, each shot 68. Mirim Lee opened with a 73.

“I played really solid on the back nine,” Korda said. “I got to get my wedges a little dialed in, but definitely a good day.”

The tournament is being contested at 72 holes for only the second time since it began in 1986. The additional round replaced the pro-am that was canceled because there are no spectators. The major KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is next week at Aronimink outside Philadelphia.

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