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Yang on top, Tseng two off the lead at Kraft Nabisco

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – An opening-round 67 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship is just a bonus to Lindsey Wright. After fighting her way back from depression and anxiety to rejoin the LPGA, she’s grateful for every good day on the links and every peaceful night away from golf.

Wright began the first major of the year one stroke behind leader Amy Yang, who shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday. Wright even outplayed top-ranked Yani Tseng, whose 68 ended her streak of eight consecutive rounds with a lead.

With five birdies on the back nine of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, Wright took another positive step in her revitalization. After quitting golf for the final four months of last year, the 32-year-old Australian returned with a victory in the New Zealand Women’s Open last month, followed by this strong start at Mission Hills.

“I’m really enjoying my golf,” Wright said. “It’s not a grind anymore. I’m actually enjoying it, the good and the bad.”

Wright, a Pepperdine graduate who lives in Florida, has earned more than $2.2 million despite never winning an LPGA event. She was outstanding in 2009, earning top-four finishes in two majors, but success didn’t provide the happiness she expected.

Wright said she felt “smothered” by the nonstop travel and pressure of a pro golfer’s life. She sometimes needed two bottles of red wine to cure her chronic insomnia, and her homesickness for Australia was accentuated by her depression, which she didn’t identify until she recognized her symptoms on a television program about the disease.

“It wasn’t a great time, and I just couldn’t really get through it,” Wright said. “It’s hard to explain other than from a physical standpoint. People think, `Depression, oh, just get over it.’ It really impacts you physically, and playing on this tour, grinding it out each week when you’re not sleeping and you can’t concentrate or focus, it just gets you down, and it’s a bit of a nightmare.”

Wright went home to Albury, in New South Wales—also the hometown of basketball star Lauren Jackson—and worked in media and administration at various tournaments. She already had spent a couple of years thinking about walking away from golf entirely.

“I started going home, and my best mates were having families,” Wright said. “Everybody seemed to be growing up, and I was out here doing this—which is nothing wrong. It’s a great lifestyle if you have a healthy balance. I haven’t really had a healthy balance. I’ve always pushed myself, and in retrospect, I should have taken four or five months off (in 2009), but I didn’t.”

After getting psychological help and medication, Wright is planning to play golf until September. She still might quit the sport in the fall, but she’s following up her worst months with some of her best.

“I just want to enjoy my life from when I wake up in the morning to when I go to bed at night,” Wright said. “When I was having depression and my anxiety, I actually was getting along fine on the golf course, but as soon as I would leave, I was miserable, lonely, depressed, homesick—and life is not meant to be like that. I made a conscious decision last year to change that, so it’s taken a lot of pressure off my golf, and I’m playing better.”

For at least one round, Wright even played better than Tseng, the five-time major champion who has won two straight tournaments and three of five this season. Yang and Wright have never won on the LPGA.

The 22-year-old Yang made five birdies in seven holes around the turn at Mission Hills, using a steady putting stroke to take the early lead. Yang chipped in from the fringe for birdie on the 13th, highlighting a strong start at Mission Hills for the former teen sensation.

Yang has five top-10 finishes in majors over the previous three years after winning on the European tour, but the table tennis enthusiast who idolizes fellow Korean pro Se Ri Pak hasn’t broken through to hold an LPGA trophy.

“Everything was working well,” Yang said. “I think especially my putting was better than other tournaments. I had a couple of shots that went into the trees, and it was hard to play, but I had some good par saves and good birdie putts.”

Tseng acknowledged being tired during practice rounds this week after driving from San Diego to Palm Springs following her victory in the Kia Classic in Carlsbad last Sunday. She bogeyed the eighth hole with a feeble chip out of the greenside rough, but the Taiwanese star gathered herself for four birdies in the next six holes.

“I was really disappointed today,” Tseng said. “I don’t hit many good shots, and I don’t leave myself lots of birdie chances out there.”

Wearing oversized sunglasses even while putting, Michelle Wie opened with a 73. Defending champion Stacy Lewis had four consecutive bogeys in a 74.