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Maja Stark, Wichanee Meechai tie for early lead in Shanghai

Maja Stark and Wichanee Meechai each shot rounds of 6-under 66 to lead the Buick LPGA Shanghai on Thursday, marking the return of the tournament after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Sitting two shots back at the 6,672-yard Qizhong Garden Golf Club are 10 players at 4-under 68. The group includes Danielle Kang, the defending champion following back-to-back wins in 2018 and 2019, and home-country favorites Yu Liu, Danlin Cai and Shuying Li.

Kang, who birdied three of the first eight holes, was content with her position heading into the second round.

“You just have to have ball striking really in play with wedges because there is a lot of tricky grass around the greens,” she said. “My caddie … really helped me stay in the moment. He’s like, ‘It’s only Thursday. Stop looking at the leaderboard. We’re going to end up where you need to end up.'”

For Stark, a Swede, and Thailand’s Meechai, Thursday provided a new experience. It was the first time either has held a first-round lead in an LPGA event, and they got there in different ways.

Stark scattered six birdies throughout the bogey-free round. Meechai, making her debut in the tournament, started on the back nine and was at even par through the first six holes until No. 17, when she finished with an eagle on the par-5 hole. She repeated the feat on the par-4 No. 18.

On the front side, she mixed four birdies and two bogeys. She has some experience on the course from her three years on the Chinese your and said Qizhong Garden felt “like home.” She is seeking her first LPGA tour win.

For Stark, who represented Europe in the Solheim Cup in September, it was her first bogey-free round since March and her first LPGA event since she missed the cut at the Portland Classic in late August. She ended her round Thursday with four birdies in her final eight holes.

“I think it was needed,” she said of the time off in her schedule. “I haven’t played a normal tournament in five weeks. I think I’ve been longing for a break like that during the season, but it’s so hard to give myself a break. … It’s been really nice to be able to refocus and really think through what I’ve done during the year and what happened at Solheim, because I felt like at Solheim I was a way different player than I used to be.

“I moved on from stuff more quickly. I managed to figure stuff out during the round sometimes. It felt like every putt was so important so I just tried to keep that going and keep that out here and just actually think about what it’s for and not just, oh, this is for birdie. No, this is actually — this could be the winning putt. This could be really important.”

World No. 1 Lilia Vu shot even-par 72 to tie for 37th. No. 2 Ruoning Yin of China is in a tie for 27th after her round of 71.

–Field Level Media

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