LPGAApril 4, 2019

Lexi Thompson is in her happy place at the ANA Inspiration and it pays off with an opening 69

ANA Inspiration - Round One
Matthew StockmanRANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04: Lexi Thompson hits out of the fourth fairway during round 1 of the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore course at Mission Hills Country Club on April 04, 2019 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Lexi Thompson, on arrival here earlier this week, professed her unwavering love for the ANA Inspiration, then reinforced it on a beautiful spring morning here on Thursday.

Thompson, who won here in 2014, opened the LPGA’s first major with a three-under-par 69, one shot off the lead held by Ally McDonald.

It could have been better, Thompson said, more or less echoing the lament of every golfer ever.

“It was a little bit of an up-and-down day,” she said. “I hit some great shots and then hit some poor ones off the tee. I think I should have hit a lot more fairways. I made some great putts, which is always a big confidence booster for me. I think overall I just could have hit it better. But still not complaining.”

Good thing. What’s to complain about at a venue that has treated her so well, notwithstanding one regrettable incident, a four-stroke penalty she incurred for having not replaced her ball in the identical position in which she had marked it in Saturday’s third round two years ago. The penalty was assessed on Sunday and was two shots and an additional two for having signed an incorrect scorecard. It cost her a victory; she finished second.

RELATED: How So Yeon Ryu won, Lexi Thompson lost and the penalty that stole the story line

Short memories help in golf and Thompson apparently has one. “This is one of my favorite tournaments,” she said on Tuesday. “Every year I just enjoy the drive over from San Diego [and the Kia Classic] to Palm Springs. It's just absolutely beautiful here.

“Just to be back it brings back so many great memories. I just love this golf course. I get to hit my driver everywhere. It's just so much fun to be here this week.”

For one of the longest hitters in women’s golf, the ability to pull driver at will is a bonus, though the fairways, in relation to past years, have been narrowed on each side, and the rough is thick.

“That's a major championship,” she said. “I think it should play long and the rough should be up. I actually probably hit more drivers this year than other years. It's just tighter so you have to commit to your lines a little bit more and still play aggressively, because they did move a few tees being back.”

Thompson, it should be noted, has finished in the top 10 in four of the last five ANA Inspirations and tied for 20th in the other. It’s a track record that renders her form coming in—four starts, only one top 10—inconsequential.