Gal leads by 1 in Naples
Naples, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Sandra Gal opened with six consecutive birdies on Thursday en route to shooting an 8-under 64 and grabbing a 1-stroke lead at the CME Group Titleholders.
Gal, the 2011 Kia Classic winner, collected just three top-10 finishes this season.
Rebecca Lee-Bentham birdied the last for a 7-under 65, which left her alone in second place at Tiburon Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.
Lexi Thompson carded a 6-under 66 to grab a share of third place. She was joined there by Anna Nordqvist and Shanshan Feng, who holed out for eagle on No. 9, her final hole.
Sandra Changkija is alone in sixth place after a 5-under 67. World No. 1 Inbee Park headlines a group of six players that are tied for seventh at minus-4.
Lydia Ko, who made her professional debut Thursday, managed a 1-under 71 and is tied for 30th after one round. Among those Ko is tied with is defending champion Na Yeon Choi, who had four birdies on the front nine and three bogeys on the back nine for her 71.
Gal started her round on the 10th tee and converted a birdie chance there. She followed with birdies at 11 and 12 to quickly move to 3-under. If that wasn't enough, Gal birdied each of the next three holes as well to soar to 6-under after six holes.
The German settled down, as she ran off seven straight pars from the 16th. She stumbled to a bogey on No. 5, but atoned for that mistake as she converted a 5-foot birdie try at the sixth.
That birdie moved Gal into a 4-way tie for the lead. Gal birdied the eighth and ninth, her final two holes, to grab the first-round lead.
"Well, I thought this tournament was a little different than the other ones, so I thought I'm just going to be really aggressive and just go for everything because really all you want to do is win here," Gal stated. "Any other place it doesn't really matter that much. So that's kind of the mindset I had and I think that really helped me and I just kept rolling in putts. Started with six in a row, so that was kind of fun."
Lee-Bentham also started on the back nine, and wasn't far from matching Gal's start. Lee-Bentham dropped in back-to-back birdie efforts from the 10th and again from the 13th to move to 4-under.
The Canadian converted birdie chances at 17 and 18 to make the turn at minus-6. She faltered to a bogey on the par-4 second, but came back with a birdie on the fourth. After four pars in a row, Lee-Bentham birdied the ninth, her last, to finish one back.
"To be honest, these past couple weeks I haven't been hitting it too well. This morning, I was kind of in a panic mode. I didn't think this round was actually going to be this good," admitted Lee-Bentham. "Yeah, I feel like the day just went my way, ended up hitting it fine, the ball went wherever I wanted it to and my putting was on today so that made all the difference."
NOTES: This is the first time Gal has had the first-round lead since the 2009 season, when she did it twice, including at the Women's British Open ... Lee- Bentham's best finish this season was a share of 11th at the Evian Championship.
11/21 18:19:21 ET