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Ally Ewing leads AIG Women’s Open after first round at Walton Heath

WALTON-ON-THE-HILL, England — The United States is seeking its third female major champion of 2023 at the AIG Women’s Open this week.

Few would have predicted Ally Ewing leading the charge.

Ewing made eagle from 5 feet at the par-5 16th to leapfrog a five-way tie for first place and parred the last two holes to shoot 4-under 68 for the solo lead at Walton Heath in the opening round of the year’s final major.

Ranked No. 39, Ewing missed the cut in two of the last three majors and her most recent top-10 finish in the biggest events in golf came at the Chevron Championship in early 2021.

“I set myself a little bit of a target, although this is probably conservative ... finish the first round top 30 or better. That’s what I had in mind,” Ewing said. “That’s what I had in mind going into a major. That doesn’t mean that a top 30 is what I’m trying to shoot for.”

She has a long way to go to win her first major at the age of 30, even if she’ll be comforted that the names right behind her are hardly the biggest in the women’s game.

Only one of the five players to shoot 69 is a former major winner — Jeongeun Lee6, the Women’s U.S. Open champion from 2019 — and she has dropped to No. 94 in the rankings.

Also tied for second place were Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark, Perrine Delacour of France, Jaravee Boonchant of Thailand and Amy Yang of South Korea.

Of them, only Yang is in the world’s top 50. Boonchant is No. 148.

Allisen Corpuz, the U.S. Women’s Open champion at Pebble Beach last month, was among a slew of players sharing seventh place at 2 under on a day many of the most celebrated players in the women’s game struggled despite the pleasant conditions at Walton Heath, a heathland course southwest of London.

Rose Zhang, the new American sensation who only turned pro this year, battled all day and got up-and-down for par from a greenside bunker at No. 18 to shoot 72.

Top-ranked Nelly Korda and No. 2 ranked Jin Young Ko were 1 over, along with up-and-coming Swede, Linn Grant.

Celine Boutier, the Frenchwoman coming off back-to-back wins including at the Evian Championship, couldn’t reproduce that form and needed birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 to escape with a 2-over 74. Former No. 1 Lydia Ko and recent Open champions Georgia Hall and Ashleigh Buhai also had 74s.