GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Anna Nordqvist was born and raised in Sweden.

She lives in Orlando, Florida.

But her golf home just might be the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club.

Nordqvist took her first step toward a ShopRite LPGA Classic three-peat Friday. She shot 7-under-par 64 to take the first-round lead by one shot over four players. The two-time defending tournament champion also shot a 64 in the final round of last year’s tournament.

She doesn’t have a complicated, mystical explanation for her Classic success.

“I just like the way I can hit the golf ball here,” she said. “I have so many good memories here. It almost feels like home now with a lot of supporters and a lot of friends.”

Thirteen players were within three shots of the lead. Four players — Jennifer Song, Moriya Jutanugarn, Jenny Shin and Jeong Eun Lee — shot a 6-under 65. LPGA fan favorite Paula Creamer led a group of three players at 5-under 66, while Stacy Lewis, who won the Classic in 2012 and 2014, was one of four players at 4-under 67.(tncms-asset)c2a5490c-4807-11e7-a663-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)

This could be a historic weekend for Nordqvist.

She is trying to become the first player to ever win three straight Classics. The tournament began in 1986 and except for a three-year gap from 2007-09, it has been held every year since.

Nordqvist also is trying to join Hall of Famer golfers Annika Sorenstam and Betsy King as the only players to win three the tournament three times.

Friday’s first round was played in sunny and calm conditions that were conducive to low scores. The wind picked up in the afternoon making the course much tougher.

Nordqvist couldn’t have started better. She began her round on the 10{sup}th{/sup} hole shortly after 8 a.m. and birdied her first three holes. Nordqvist sank a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 10.(tncms-asset)81905990-47e7-11e7-884c-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)

“Starting with birdie, birdie, birdie obviously was a great feeling,” she said. “I hit some really good shots, so I was just happy to get it going early.”

Nordqvist birdied nine holes. She hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation. As good as it was, her round could have been better. She bogeyed the 492-yard, par-5 third hole, where nearly every golfer makes at least par. Nordqvist had to take an unplayable lie after her third shot landed in the rough left of the green.

“I feel like I recovered well from there,” she said.

Nordqvist wasn’t the only golfer to have a memorable first round.

After she shot a 66, a reporter asked Song how she’s done at previous ShopRite LPGA Classics.

“Because I don’t remember, I don’t I think I finished well,” she said with a laugh. “Hopefully, this week I’ll play strong for the next two days.”

Song finished tied for 14th last year and missed the cut from 2013-15.

Shin and Lee both finished in the early evening, when few fans were on hand.

Lee proclaimed, “I love this course!” after her round.

Creamer and crowds

Golfers have to start fast at the Classic. The tournament is one of the few three-day, 54-hole events left on the LPGA Tour. One fewer round is just fine with Song.

“I don’t get so tired,” she said. “Crowds are great, food is great, so I am just having a blast out here.”(tncms-asset)062d2c56-4706-11e7-99a2-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)

Creamer drew one of Friday’s largest galleries especially as she started to climb the leaderboard with four straight birdies, a streak that started on the 323-yard, par-4 eighth hole.

One of the LPGA’s biggest names, Creamer has struggled in 2017. Before Friday, she had shot just three rounds in the 60s and missed the cut in four of eight events, including last week’s LPGA Volvik Championship in Michigan.

“I know my game is coming around,” she said. “I’ve felt really positive. It’s just a couple holes out there every once in a while get me.”

But it was Nordqvist, who dominated the conversation during the first round. Plenty of fans stood by the ninth green to get her autograph or snap a picture with her after she finished her round.

“I seem to have a few more spectators here,” she said with a laugh.

Nine of her last 10 ShopRite rounds have been in the 60s. Nordqvist’s Classic scoring average during that stretch is 66.9. In addition to her victories, she finished tied for 3rd in 2014.

“I feel like I enjoy this place,” Nordqvist said, “but at the same time, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove here.”(tncms-asset)b9ebb678-4589-11e7-a30f-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)

In other words, it feels like home.

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609-272-7185 Twitter @ACPressMcGarry

I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.

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