Danielle Kang sizzles in the desert to share early ANA Inspiration lead

The hottest thing at the ANA Inspiration wasn’t the temperature Thursday, much to the delight of the players and caddies in the LPGA major.

Instead, it was Danielle Kang who continued to sizzle. A two-time winner on the women’s tour since it restarted from a five-month COVID-19 shutdown, Kang navigated the heat, the Bermuda grass and deep rough on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills for a 4-under 68. That gave Kang a share of the lead midway through the opening round of the event.

“It’s just been consistently hot every day, but it’s been pretty bearable so far,” Kang said. “I’m from Vegas, it’s 120 out there, so I kind of like the heat. But besides that, I think it’s a major championship. Every day there’s new difficulties. Even the simplest shot is not as simple as we think. So I’ve just got to stay focused, and I think that’s my main goal.”

LEADERBOARD: ANA Inspiration

Kang was joined by Canada’s Brooke Henderson, China’s Yu Liu and Malaysia’s Kelly Tan also shot 4 under playing in the morning wave of tee times on a day that saw temperatures stay well below the numbers from earlier in the week.

Kang was just 1-under par for the day after a bogey on the first hole, her 10th hole of the day. But she birdied three of the last eight holes, including a six-footer on the par-5 ninth hole, to reach 4 under. The round could have been better, Kang said, since she made seven birdies on the day. But Kang also had three three-putt bogeys, though she said the three-putts were a technical issue rather than issues with the Bermuda grass on the greens.

Danielle Kang lines up a putt on the 11th green during the 2020 ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Golf Club. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

“I three-putted three times. I three-putted on 14, 16 and 10. That’s three three-putts in six holes,” Kang said. “It just bugged me a little bit. But there’s always a reason why I’m three-putting. There’s always a reason why I missed a two-and-a-half-footer. Actually the miss on 10 kind of made me realize why did I miss a two-and-a-half-footer, and then I started thinking about it and then I rolled the ball better coming down the stretch.”

Henderson, who was celebrating her 23rd birthday Thursday, has been popular among snowbirds in the desert for years. She was another player to make a late move to the top of the leader board among the morning starters.

“I made a lot of pars on the front nine. Solid start, and I felt like I was really close to making a lot of birdies, so I was happy when they started to fall a little bit more on the back nine,” Henderson said. “I’m happy with 4 under, it’s definitely a solid start, nice way to spend your birthday, and hopefully I can just keep making some birdies and climb the leader board.”

Brooke Henderson on the 16th hole during the first round of the ANA Inspiration at the Dinah Shore at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Tan, the first player from Malaysia to hold a share of the lead in the ANA Inspiration, followed the time-honored desert adage of playing early in the summer by shooting her 68 from the first tee time of the day. But the heat was never truly a problem for anyone Thursday, though the players understand that the temperatures are expected to rise in the coming days.

“Definitely very hot (on Friday) and very different from today. It was kind of nice in the morning, things were a little bit softer, it was a little bit cooler,” Henderson said. “Felt like it was definitely scoring conditions.

“Tomorrow afternoon, I think we’ll just have to play really smart, play our way around the golf course, hitting to specific spots and just being careful of run-outs on the fairways and on the greens.”

Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or larry.bohannan@desertsun.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at Sun. @Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.

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