MOBILE, Ala. (AP) – Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann returned from a monthlong layoff and shot a 6-under 66 Thursday to take a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the LPGA Tournament of Champions.

Neumann, who won the event in 1996 at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Fla., had six birdies, including four on the back nine.

“It was just a good solid round,” said Neumann, whose best finish this season was a tie for third at the Longs Drugs Challenge, her last event. “My irons were the key today. I hit a lot of good shots and made all of the putts I should have made.”

Juli Inkster and Christina Kim, teammates on the winning U.S. Solheim Cup squad, were one stroke back after opening 67s. Defending champion Heather Daly-Donofrio and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc were two back, and Candie Kung, Hee-Won Han and Lorena Ochoa were another stroke off the lead.

Because of wet fairways, lift, clean and place rules were in effect. As a result, players took aim at the pins and the field of 43 LPGA winners from the last four years and active Hall of Fame members produced 24 under-par rounds.

“Even though it was still wet, I don’t think the course played that long and the greens were holding,” said Neumann, who finished 10th last year. “The greens are really not that fast, so you can make good aggressive strokes. If the weather stays like this, I think you’re going to see a lot of birdies.

“I only missed one green and that was on a par-5 and I left myself with an easy chip, so I never really had to work for pars. It was a nice, stress-free round.”

Neumann earned a spot in the tournament with a win at the 2004 Asahi Ryokuken Championship – her first since 1998.

Kim and Inkster each birdied the difficult 18th hole to close within a shot of Neumann.

“This course is by no means easy,” Kim said. “It rewards you if you hit good iron shots on the right part of the green and it punishes you if you don’t. The course is very scoreable.”

Annika Sorenstam, the 1997 winner at Westin Hills, is skipping the event to rest for the season-ending ADT Championship next week in West Palm Beach, Fla.

AP-ES-11-10-05 1937EST


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