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Wright stuff earns Australian early lead at Mission Hills

(Reuters) - Six months after considering quitting the game because of depression, Australian Lindsey Wright stormed into an early two-shot lead at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, California on Thursday.

The 32-year-old took advantage of ideal scoring conditions at Mission Hills Country Club, firing a five-under-par 67 in the opening round of the year's first women's major.

In pursuit of a maiden victory on the LPGA Tour, Wright finished two strokes in front of South Korea's Kang Haeji, who mixed five birdies with two bogeys.

Taiwan's Candie Kung and American rookie Cydney Clanton were a further shot back after returning matching 70s on the sun-splashed Dinah Shore Tournament Course.

World number one Yani Tseng of Taiwan, a heavy favorite this week after winning four of the last eight major championships, was among the late starters.

Wright, who took a four-month break from the game late last year after feeling "smothered" by golf, was delighted with her start at Mission Hills.

"From tee to green, I don't think I missed one fairway today ... and then you set yourself up because the course is just pure," the Australian told reporters after covering her last nine holes in five-under 31.

"It was one of those days when everything just felt good. I didn't feel intense. It was just going smoothly.

"And I putted really well. Not everything I looked at, but my speed and line matched up really well, and it showed with my last nine, shooting five under."

TIME AWAY

Wright, who tied for fourth at the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship, said she felt reenergized after her decision to spend time away from the game.

"I was being smothered by it, by the lifestyle and golf, and I wanted to do something else so I took four months off," she added.

"It was really great. I took the time off and experienced other things, and I think that's made a massive impact for me coming into the year."

Wright last month won the New Zealand Women's Open, which is co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour, with a free-wheeling approach to the game with she has brought to Mission Hills.

"There's no pressure on my game," she said. "I don't feel that pressure. If you'd said to me before New Zealand, 'You're going to win', I would have went, 'Oh, yeah, whatever, I'm so unlucky'.

"But having won that tournament has opened all these doors for me to play in Europe, which I really want to do. And I'm really enjoying my golf. It's not a grind anymore. I'm actually enjoying it, the good and the bad."

Australia's former world number one Karrie Webb and fourth-ranked American Cristie Kerr carded 71s on Thursday while big-hitting Brittany Lincicome of the United States, the 2009 champion, battled to a 76.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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