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In-Kyung Kim back on top at ANA, 7 years after 1-foot miss

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Seven years after missing a 1-foot putt on the final hole of regulation and losing a playoff, In-Kyung Kim was back on top at the ANA Inspiration. The 30-year-old South Korean shot a 7-under 65 in mostly calm morning conditions Friday at Mission Hills to take a three-stroke lead over Katherine Kirk into the weekend in the first major golf championship of the year.

"Every stage, every passage of life has meaning to it and serves some purpose to it," Kim said. "I'm just here doing my best." In 2012, Kim missed the short par putt to fall into a playoff and lost when Sun Young Yoo birdied the first extra hole. Kim struggled with the loss before finally ending a long victory drought late in the 2016 season in China. Her confidence renewed, she won three times the following year, capped by a major victory in the Women's British Open.

"Sometimes winning is great, but for me as an athlete, you want to see some progress in your game," Kim said. "That's what I'm focusing on at the moment. That gives me joy. Anything else really is just a bonus, an extra."

On Friday on the tree-lined layout toughened by thick, dewy rough, tighter fairways and some longer holes, Kim birdied all four of the par-5 holes and played a nine-hole stretch in the middle of the round in 6 under. After three-putting the par-4 seventh for her first bogey in 25 holes, she saved par on the par-3 eighth with an 8-footer and closed the round with an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-4 ninth to reach 8 under.

"I had makeable putts that went in," Kim said. "Yesterday, I also had a lot of opportunities, but in the afternoon when the wind blows on the back nine you can't really be too aggressive to the flag."

She played alongside Hall of Famer Juli Inkster in the first two rounds. "It's my privilege to play with Juli," Kim said. "Always you learn something. I love her competitiveness and I really look up to her. I think being around her made me feel comfortable as well."

The 58-year-old Inkster matched Kim with a closing birdie, hitting a wedge to 2 feet on No. 9. She shot 77-75 to miss the cut. Kirk bogeyed the final two holes in a 68. "Really great front nine and then back nine got a little bit tougher," Kirk said. "Obviously, finishing bogey-bogey is a bit disappointing, but I'm happy with the score. Lots of positives, so looking forward to the weekend."

The 37-year-old Australian won the last of her three tour titles in 2017. "I think my best golf is still ahead of me, which is nice to say at 37," Kirk said. "All the experience, too, that I have had, I can use to that my advantage or at least try to use it to my advantage."

First-round leader Ally McDonald and Jin Young Ko were four strokes back. McDonald shot a 72 in the morning after opening with a 68 in the wind Thursday afternoon. "Today was really just one of those grinding days," McDonald said.

Ko, the Founders Cup winner two weeks ago in Phoenix, had consecutive bogeys on her back nine in a 71 in the windy afternoon session. Lexi Thompson also made two straight final-nine bogeys in a 72 that left her five strokes back at 3 under with top-ranked Sung Hyun Park (70), Charley Hull (69), Jing Yan (71) and Danielle Kang (69). Thompson, the 2014 winner, and Kang played in the afternoon.

"It was a really hard day, not only with the wind, but some of the pin locations," Thompson said. "I don't think they really thought through with the extreme winds and crosswinds that they had coming in."

Lydia Ko, playing alongside Thompson, hit into the water twice in a quadruple-bogey 8 on No. 6. She birdied the next two holes and finished with a par on No. 9 for a 75, leaving the 2016 winner 1 over.

Michelle Wie missed the cut, shooting 74-75 in her first event since withdrawing during the first round of her Singapore title defense because of pain in her right hand. Defending champion Pernilla Lindberg also dropped out with rounds of 73 and 78.

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