Kupcho and Lee share the lead of the last major at Mission Hills | professional golf

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Jennifer Kupcho shared the Chevron Championship lead on Thursday in her second — and final — start at Mission Hills, the tree-lined layout she quickly fell in love with.

“Honestly, I think it’s just being comfortable on this golf course,” Kupcho said. “I come here and I just feel comfortable. I love this place.”

Kupcho fired a 6-under 66 in sunny, calm morning conditions to join compatriot Minjee Lee atop the standings after the first round of the final major championship at Mission Hills.

“I really like the layout of this golf course, the beautiful shape it takes every year,” Kupcho said. “It’s always so much fun to be here, so I take advantage of the fact that I like the course and the atmosphere.”

Unable to find a sponsor willing to stay in Mission Hills, the tournament which started in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle and came of age in 1983 is moving to Houston next year as part of a deal with Chevron.

“Really sad,” Carolina Masson said after a 68. “I get why we’re doing it, but I’m just trying to soak up every second here. The golf course still plays great.”

Defending champion Patty Tavatanakit was a blow back, finishing late in the afternoon in gusty winds.

“Really proud,” Tavatanakit said. “I feel like I really picked up the momentum, I was really there today.”

Kupcho birdied 11-14 to go 8 under, then bogeyed the next two holes. She birdied four of the first five and finished with nine birdies and three bogeys.

“You really need to hit the fairways on a big golf course, so that was like my biggest thing today, hitting a bunch of the fairways,” Kupcho said. “It really set me up for all my birdies.”

Winless on the LPGA Tour, Kupcho won the 2018 NCAA individual title for Wake Forest and won the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur the following year after missing out on a spot that week at Mission Hills.

The 24-year-old from Colorado arrived early in the desert after missing the cup on Friday at Carlsbad. “I just used the two days I had on the weekend to come here and train,” she said.

Lee birdied the par-5 four in a bogey-free round on the mountain-framed course.

“It was perfect,” Lee said. “Not like a breath of wind when we were playing. Maybe just a little bit. But the conditions are excellent. The putting greens roll really well. I don’t think you can do better than that.

The 25-year-old Australian, ranked fourth in the world, won the Evian Championship last summer for her first major title and sixth victory on the LPGA Tour.

“I know I have one under my belt, but I want a little more,” Lee said. “I just think I have a little more confidence in myself and my game, so I can be a little more comfortable just hitting shots.”

Third-ranked Lydia Ko, 2015 champion, was at 68 with Masson, Anna Nordqvist, Georgia Hall, Gabriela Ruffels and Pajaree Anannarukarn. Another comeback hit was Lexi Thompson, the 2014 winner, along with Sarah Schmelzel, Annie Park, Lauren Stephenson, Pauline Roussin-Bouchard and Hinako Shibuno.

Thompson marveled at the course she first played as a 14-year-old amateur.

“I’ve never seen it this good,” Thompson said. “It always surprises me every year. It always gets better. The greens are amazing. I’m the type to putt and usually aim for things along the way, and there’s just not an imperfection on the greens to aim for, it’s a good problem.

Schmelzel makes his fourth appearance.

“This place is really special,” Schmelzel said. “I want to grow up watching the LPGA Tour, these are holes I remember. These are holes I wanted to be on one day.

Park played as a single in the first group of the afternoon on the first tee.

“It was a little weird having the first two holes playing by itself,” Park said. “It was really quiet.”

Top-ranked 2019 winner Jin Young Ko shot a 74 to end her under-par streak at 34 rounds. His streak of at least one birdie ended at 53 rounds.

“I was hitting a lot of good shots, but my putts weren’t good,” she said. “I didn’t see the breakaway or the speed as much. It was all fake.”

Ally Ewing and Moriya Jutanugarn had an eventful finish on the par-5 18th when the sprinklers on the green came on around 6 p.m. as Ewing set up for a 4-foot birdie putt. After a short delay, she holeshot for a 70.

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