Lydia Ko sits in a strong position after the opening round of the first women's golf major of the year.

The 21-year-old Kiwi carded three birdies and a bogey for a solid start at the ANA Inspiration in California, signing for a two-under 70 that puts her in a tie for sixth.

"I don't have greed on the course," Ko said. "[The] course is hard, so I'm thinking always, 'Hit the fairway, also green, middle of the green. Two-putt is fine. I'm good."'

Ko is chasing her second win at the ANA Inspiration, having won the tournament in 2016 - her second and most recent major title.

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She has finished in a tie for 11th and 20th the last two years, and has been in solid form to start 2019, finishing in the top 20 in five of her six tournaments.

Lydia Ko hits her tee shot on the 18th hole during the pro-am for the ANA Inspiration. Photo / Getty
Lydia Ko hits her tee shot on the 18th hole during the pro-am for the ANA Inspiration. Photo / Getty

American Lexi Thompson is one of the players a shot ahead of Ko, after she birdied the final two holes for a three-under 69, one shot behind outright leader Ally McDonald.

The 2014 champion was tied with other big names such as Jin Young Ko and Hyo Joo Kim after the morning wave at Mission Hills, the tree-lined course made more difficult this year with thick rough, tighter fairways and some lengthened holes.

Thompson birdied the difficult par-three 17th, with the pin on the far right side, then hit a wedge close on the par-five 18th after caddie Benji Thompson talked her into hitting a lower-lofted club.

"I wanted to hit my 50 degree, which was max what the yardage was," Thompson said. "He was like, 'No, just chip the 47, take the spin off, in case a gust does come up.' Sure enough, it did. Just chipped up there.

"I was like, 'Thank you so much, Benji.' That's what a great caddie does. He's there for me to play aggressive and call me off shots that need to be called off."

Fellow major champion Kim eagled the second — her 11th hole of the day — and had four birdies and three bogeys.

Playing partner Jessica Korda had seven birdies in an adventurous 70. She was tied with Ko, Cristie Kerr, Jane Park, Lizette Salas, Amy Yang and Lauren Stephenson.

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Sei Young Kim made a 10 on No. 18 in a 78. After laying up on the par five, she twice hit into the water and was penalized a stroke for dropping from the wrong height.

Kim instinctively held out her arm and dropped at shoulder-height, but the modernised Rules of Golf that began this year require drops to be knee-height.

- With AP