- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) - Lydia Ko was in trouble. Trying to tie Annika Sorenstam’s LPGA Tour record for consecutive rounds under par, the 17-year-old New Zealander was even par with three holes left and stuck behind five large trees to the left of the seventh fairway.

“It was a pretty nasty place to be,” Ko said.

To escape, she needed to a hit a big, low hook.

She did, with the ball scampering onto the green and stopping pin-high 25 feet to the right.

“I said, ‘I’m going to try to hit the biggest hook,’” Ko said. “It would have probably looked really bad, that swing on camera, but it ended up being OK. … I had to hit it low enough and had to hit a slinging hook, so I didn’t end up in the bunker.”

She two-putted for par, then hit a 6-iron to 18 inches on the 158-yard, par-3 eighth to set up the birdie she needed to get under par. She closed with a par on the par-5 ninth for a 1-under 71 to match Sorenstam’s record of 29 straight rounds under par.

Playing partner Lexi Thompson thought her young friend was in trouble on No. 7.

“It was an incredible shot,” Thompson said. “I didn’t know she had that kind of shot because she was on an upslope. I didn’t know she could keep it under the trees.”

The top-ranked Ko started the streak in the first round of her victory last year in the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Her worldwide streak is 32, counting her three rounds this year in her victory in the Ladies European Tour’s New Zealand Women’s Open.

Sorenstam set the LPGA Tour mark in 2004.

“I’ve talked to her a couple of times,” Ko said about Sorenstam. “I would love to play with her one day. That would be really cool.”

Also the Women’s Australian Open winner in February the week before her New Zealand victory, Ko was a stroke behind leaders Charley Hull, Na Yeon Choi and Austin Ernst halfway through the first round in the first major championship of the season.

Second-ranked Inbee Park and No. 3 Stacy Lewis played in the afternoon. Lewis won the 2011 tournament, and Park took the 2013 title.

Opening in strong morning wind at tree-lined Mission Hills, Ko made a 14-foot birdie putt on her first hole and got to 2 under with an 8-footer on No. 12. She bogeyed the par-4 13th, hitting into the front right bunker and leaving herself a 25-foot par putt.

“You’d normally expect the wind gets up in the afternoon, but no, the wind was pretty strong at the first couple holes. It made it definitely tough.”

After Thompson hit into the water in front of the green on the 133-yard 14th with the wind gusting to 25-30 mph, Ko hit pin-high to the right and made the 15-footer for birdie.

“I had to play like 12 yards (for the wind), so I went up a club and a half,” Ko said.

Ko bogeyed three of the next four holes to make the turn at 1 over.

Playing into a right-to-left crosswind on the par-4 15th, she drove into the front of the left fairway bunker. A half-foot from the lip of the bunker, she chipped 30 yards to the fairway and hit her 6-iron third to 35 feet.

On the par-4 16th, she drove to the left, with the ball stopping in rough on the front edge of a bunker. Her fairway wood with the ball below her feet ended up short of the green in the left rough and she hit her third to 20 feet.

She was fortunate to drop only one shot on the par-5 18th. After going from the right rough to left and sending her third through the green, Ko hit a flop shot that ticked a palm tree and stopped in the fringe. Her downhill putt raced 15 feet past, but she holed the comebacker.

“I would have never thought I would hit the tree that was like 3 yards away right on my target. That wasn’t good. But holed a good putt, so maybe that was the turning point.”

Ko got back to even par on the par-5 second, hitting a chip to a foot. She also chipped to a foot on the par-3 fifth after missing the green to the left.

She was too busy scrambling to worry about the record.

“When you’re in that position, a record was the last thing I was thinking about,” Ko said.

Thompson, the defending champion, had a 72.

Michelle Wie, second last year, had a double bogey on No. 18 in a 73.

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