Gal Sets Pace in Titleholders

Sandra Gal got warmed up quickly in the CME Group Titleholders. The $2 million event, the season-ender on the LPGA Tour, began Thursday at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla.

Starting play on the back nine, the 28-year-old German reeled off six straight birdies on Nos. 10-15 for a 6-under 30 on her front nine. After seven straight pars, she bogeyed the par-3 fifth (her 14th hole) before carding three birdies on her final four holes for an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead over Canada's Rebecca Lee-Bentham.

"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 told reporters.

Two strokes off the pace in a tie for third are Sweden's Anna Nordqvist, China's Shanshan Feng and Lexi Thompson, the winner in last week's Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

"I definitely have a good amount of confidence coming off of last week, but I knew my game was close coming into the final stretch going over to Asia," said Thompson. "I'm just continuing to work hard and I have to be patient with my game."

Sandra Changkija is in solo sixth following a 66, while another stroke back are fellow Americans Brittany Lincicome, Jane Park and Brittany Lang along with the Netherlands' Dewi Claire Schreefel, and South Koreans Inbee Park and Sun Young Yoo.

Park entered the tournament already having the LPGA Tour's points-based Player of the Year award sewed up thanks to her six victories - including three majors - in 2013.

Making her professional debut Thursday was Lydia Ko, the 16-year-old former amateur from New Zealand who's already won twice - two straight Canadian Women's Opens - in the past two years on the LPGA Tour. Ko opened with a 1-under 71 to tie for 30th with - among others - defending champion Na Yeon Choi and Stacy Lewis.

"It was just normal," said Ko. "It didn't feel special or too odd. It didn't go by too fast. I thought I would be more nervous but I wasn't. It was a lot of fun."

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