Katherine Kirk flirted with the lead, briefly took it, then finished within touching distance after day one of the ANA Inspiration in California.
Kirk, who signed for a one-under-par 71, was comfortably the best Australian as the major championship season began at Rancho Mirage, east of Los Angeles, as several of her compatriots fell from contention.
A solo leader was established in the day’s final group when unheralded American Ally McDonald birdied the last to climb to four under, one clear of five women including former world No.1 Lexi Thompson and the red-hot Jin Young Ko.
But on a day of unusually subdued scoring, there are remarkably 27 women within three shots of McDonald, including Lydia Ko and Jess Korda at -2, with Queenslander Kirk, world No.1 Sung Hyun Par and Brooke Henderson among those at -1.
Thankfully for Perth’s Minjee Lee, the world No.3 and one of the pre-tournament fancies, her closing bogey in an uncustomarily flat 73 didn’t sink her chances, still just five strokes from the lead.
Of the other Australians, mother-to-be Sarah Jane Smith carded a 74 to stay in touch, but work will be required for Sarah Kemp (76), Su Oh (77), Karrie Webb (78) and Hannah Green (80) to make the cut tomorrow.
But it was Kirk, four times a top-10 finisher in major championships, including a share of third at the 2017 Evian, who flew the flag again after closing brilliantly last week with a 65 in San Diego to be leading Aussie at the Kia Classic.
She began her round today on the 10th hole with a birdie, soon birdied the 12th and 17th holes to join the early lead set by the morning pairings at three under.
Another birdie on the par-five second hole momentarily gave the three-time LPGA Tour winner the lead at four under, but three bogeys in the next four holes left her in a share of 16th after round one.
McDonald made a 2m birdie putt on the last to cap a great round in the windier afternoon conditions on the Mission Hills course made tougher this year with thicker rough and tighter fairways than in previous years.