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Going for third-straight win, world No. 1 Nelly Korda three back at Ford Championship

GILBERT, Ariz. — Nelly Korda fought through brutal conditions to win in Southern California last week.

A solid opening round on a soft course in perfect weather has the world’s No. 1 player in position to win her third straight start.

Korda shot a 6-under 66 in the first round of the Ford Championship on Thursday, leaving her three shots back in a bid to become the first LPGA Tour player to win three straight starts in eight years.

“Completely different today compared to last weekend,” Korda said. “The greens are quite soft. I know Arizona has been getting a good bit of rain throughout the winter. I knew there would be low scores out there, so needed to be aggressive.”

A week after brutal wind outside Los Angeles in the Fir Hills Seri Pak Championship, ideal scoring conditions greeted the players in the inaugural event at Seville Golf and Country Club.

Pajaree Anannarukan took advantage with a bogey-free, 9-under 63 after starting on the back nine at the 6,734-yard course in suburban Phoenix. She had a one-shot lead over Lilia Vu, Gabriela Ruffels, Isa Gabsa and former Arizona State players Azahara Munoz and Carlota Ciganda.

The top-ranked Korda opened with four birdies in five holes and closed with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th as she tries to become the first LPGA Tour player to win three straight starts since Ariya Jutanugarn in 2016.

Korda won the Drive On Championship in her hometown of Bradenton, Florida, before sitting out all of the LPGA Tour’s Asian swing. She showed no rust after the long break, winning last week to move back atop the world ranking and is in contention again.

“(I) kept it pretty light at the beginning of the week knowing I needed rest and that was the most important,” Korda said.

Anannarukan has won twice on the LPGA Tour, including last year’s Bank of Hope Match Play at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. The 24-year-old from Thailand missed the cut last week, but closed with five straight birdies to shoot 6-under 30 on Seville’s front nine.

“The condition’s really similar to Las Vegas,” she said. “I feel like if you can get the good number into most of the shots going into the green, that’s just really helpful. I think I got a really good number today, just really helped me with the putts as well.”

Vu fell out of the top spot in the world when Korda won in a playoff last week at Palos Verdes Golf Club. The two-time major champion sandwiched four birdies around a bogey on the par-3 eighth and had four birdies on the back nine.

Ciganda rolled in eight birdies in a bogey-free round that started on the back nine.

“I love being here. I feel the support — it just feels very comfortable,” she said. “I’m staying at home so that’s really nice this week. Sleeping in my own bed. Yeah, eating my own dinners and doing my thing. So that’s always very comfortable.”

Munoz had a wild round that included eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in her bid to win for the first time since the 2012 Sybase Match Play Championship.

Ruffels had seven birdies and an eagle with a bogey, a week after missing a birdie putt that would have put her in a playoff with Korda and Ryann O’Toole. Gabsa had three birdies on the front nine, then reeled off four straight to shoot 5-under 31 on the back to finish off her bogey-free round.

Celine Boutier and Hyo Joo Kim shot 65.