IRVING — The hottest player on the LPGA Tour continued her front-running ways during Thursday’s opening round at the North Texas LPGA Shootout.Michelle Wie, the tour’s leading money winner this season, posted her 15th consecutive round of par or better with a 4-under 67 to rank among the leaders at Las Colinas Country Club.Wie is one of six golfers lurking within a stroke of leader Suzann Pettersen, who put together a five-birdie, no-bogey effort of 66 to grab a one-stroke lead at the second-year event. Pettersen, who returned last week after a four-week hiatus because of a back injury, put together a strong ball-striking round, hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation. She moved to the top of the leader board although she did not feel on top of her game.“I’ve got to kind of pace myself a little bit. I’m just really trying to enjoy being back,” said Pettersen, who took limited warm-up swings on the range. “I can’t do too much. I really can’t hit balls on the range. I just play whatever I need to play and then just try to give my back a little bit of a break.”All of it added up to a solid performance for a golfer who admits she is not 100 percent physically and is still taking daily treatments, including acupuncture, for her ailing back.“I’m very happy. It’s always tough when you come back from something like that and you’re so out of play,” Pettersen said. “You’re not even close to playing. And the next thing you know, the pain is gone and you can start hitting balls. To bring back the [competitive] mentality straightaway ... hopefully it’s back in good shape.”It certainly worked Thursday, moving Pettersen a stroke ahead of Wie, Cristie Kerr, Dori Carter, Christina Kim, Cydney Clanton and Caroline Masson.For Wie, 24, Thursday’s hot start continued a season-long trend. She has not finished lower than a tie for 16th in any of her first eight tournaments and has collected a tour-best $651,812 this season. Wie wasted no time getting untracked in Irving, making two birdies in her first three holes. After a three-putt, she bagged an eagle at No. 10 and capped her round with a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 18.“I started off hot, but really couldn’t get anything going after that,” said Wie, who has one victory and five top-10 finishes this season. “I had a couple of wedge opportunities where I didn’t make birdie. But a 67, overall, I’ll take it. “Any under-par round on this golf course is great. I’m real excited for the next three days. Hopefully, I can do more of those.”Wie, joined by defending champ Inbee Park and Fort Worth resident Angela Stanford, was the only member of the morning featured group to break par. The other two posted even-par 71, a score matched by Stacy Lewis, the No. 3 player in the women’s world golf rankings.But birdies were plentiful for other golfers, with Amelia Lewis, P.K. Kongkraphan and Xi Yu Lin all posting rounds of 68, two strokes off the lead. Kim, who missed the cut at last week’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic while battling an illness, collected three birdies in her first five holes behind some crisp ball-striking.“I don’t think I missed a green [in regulation],” Kim said. “I missed a bunch of putts. But I struck the ball really well.”The secret behind her turnaround from last week’s struggles?“I watched a lot of Seinfeld,” Kim said. “I was a bit under the weather, so I really just focused on getting healthier.”Her opening score suggests Kim is back to full health. Even if she is among a group of golfers chasing a first-round leader who is not. Lewis’ unique roundLewis posted an even-par 71 despite a trio of three-putts and a one-stroke penalty for inadvertently kicking her ball at No. 10.“That’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that,” said Lewis, who still took par at the par-5 hole despite the penalty. “It’s just one of those weird things you’re going to do occasionally.” Briefly• Stanford, a former TCU standout, buried a 30-foot birdie putt on her final hole to post 71, one stroke ahead of fellow Fort Worth residents Gerina Piller (72) and Heather Bowie Young (72).• Maddie Szeryk (74), an Allen High School golfer who has signed with Texas A&M, posted the lowest score among the four high school or college qualifiers. Fellow high school player Annika Clark, a TCU commit, shot 81, putting her behind college golfers Sammi Stevens (76) and Brittany Fan (79).
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch