The 28-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida, carded a six-under 65 at Royal Canberra to take a one-shot lead over Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, Finland’s Noora Komulainen and Manon de Roey from Belgium.
France’s Celine Herbin carded a 67 to share fifth alongside Sarah Schober from Austria, Scotland’s Carly Booth, Katja Pogacar of Slovenia and Meghan MacLaren from England.
West Australian Hannah Green is a shot further back at three-under in a group of 10 players alongside rookie Esther Henseleit, Anne Van Dam, Madelene Sagstrom, Yan Liu, Noemi Jimenez Martin, Linnea Strom, Camille Chevalier, Christine Wolf and Ingrid Gutierrez Nunez.
Lewis found her rhythm after making a pair of birdies on the eighth and ninth holes. She picked up another birdie at the 12th and then made three in a row from the 14th.
She said: “I started off slowly and missed some putts, but hit some close and eventually made some birdies. Conditions were perfect with not a lot of wind.
“I almost holed my second shot on 16 and I thought it was going in, so I hit a nine-iron to two feet and that was my third birdie in a row. I was kinda feeling it and trying to get a few more coming in. I think the back nine is easier. It’s a little bit more wide open and I really like how the greens roll on the back nine.”
She said that she was playing Anne Van Dam for ice cream and the player with the highest score had to pay. “She was probably very confident when she said that. We normally play for dinner.”
Lewis took a few days off to see the sites of Sydney earlier in the week, whereas Komulainen took the day off on Thursday.
The Finnish Olympian said: “Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before, I had a day off, one day before the tournament, because I felt really tired. I talked with my coach and he said I didn’t need to practise and could take some rest. We went to see some koalas. This morning I felt so calm and relaxed and full of energy.”
The 28-year-old from Tampere made seven birdies in a solid 66, but dropped a shot on the short 17th after twice hitting out of the same bunker.
Last year’s Lacoste Ladies Open de France champion Hedwall made four birdies on the front nine, but dropped shots at 10 and 14 before rallying with three birdies in her last four holes. De Roey had a bogey-free round containing five birdies.
MacLaren, who will defend the Women’s NSW Open at nearby Queanbeyan Golf Club next week, enjoys playing in Australia and said: “It was really solid today and I don’t think I had any bogeys, so whenever that happens, you know you’re not going to be too far away. I think I only missed one green.”
Booth is also in the mix and said: “It was just patience today. I played pretty solid from the first hole until I finished. I got a really good eagle on the par-5 15th and had three birdies and a bogey, so I’m hoping for more of the same over the next couple of days.
“My only goal this week is to hit fairways and greens and I didn’t really hit many on the first few holes but I was just off the green. I wasn’t really connecting with my driver but it wasn’t going too far off line so I was still in play. When I needed to scramble I scrambled well so it was all quite good.”
Pogacar, who could become the first winner from Slovenia this weekend, is playing at Royal Canberra for the first time and commented: “I love this course, especially the kangaroos. The greens are rolling so good and it feels good to be back on the bent grass. I made a lot of up and downs and saved some shots. On the back nine, I had some solid par threes and I’ve been working on that a lot over the last few weeks. The short putts rolled in and I hit a lot of shots close to the pin and made the most of those opportunities.”
Green, who was the runner-up at last week’s Pacific Bay Resort Australian Ladies Classic in Bonville, birdied her first two holes but double bogeyed the 13th to get back to level par. She then birdied the 15th, 18th and first holes but dropped a shot at the fourth, before picking up another shot on her last hole.
Explaining how she made her double bogey, she said: “There are two par fours next to each other and there’s a big hill left, so I hit it down there. It was on a good lie but I mis-clubbed myself and then skinned one out of the bunker and just couldn’t make up and down, so it was a rough start to have two birdies and then a double, but I’m happy with how I played for the rest of the round and I managed to finish under par.”
The reigning champion Jiyai Shin, who is looking for a hat-trick at Royal Canberra, opened with a two-under-par 70 to lie four shots from the lead and is well within striking distance heading into the weekend.
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