The 27-year-old American wasn’t that pleased with her play over the first 16 holes at Stockton Seaview’s Bay Course in New Jersey, but certainly welcomed her late gains.
“I really didn’t put myself in a whole lot of trouble,” said Pressel after carding a five-under-par 66. “I wouldn’t say that I certainly had the best game out there. I guess I just made a few mistakes, and I didn’t play all that well, but then I came down birdieing eighth and eagling the last hole. That definitely helps.
“I only made two bogeys. They weren’t great bogeys by any means. I shouldn’t have really made them, but hopefully I can eliminate those kinds of mistakes and can keep giving myself opportunities.”
Pressel’s strong finish was set up by a pinpoint wedge to set up a birdie at the par-4 eighth before hitting a 5-hybrid from 225 yards to three feet for the closing eagle on the par-5 ninth.
“I didn’t honestly know where it was,” she said about her second shot at the ninth. “I thought it might be short of the green. I couldn’t see it and nobody clapped so I had no idea. Then we came up far enough over the hill to where we could see it and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s right next to the hole. OK, I’ll take it.'”
Pressel lies one shot clear of four others – fellow American Ryann O’Toole, Canada’s Alena Sharp, Taiwan’s Min Lee and Swede Anna Nordqvist.
Brooke Henderson, the 17-year-old Canadian playing on a sponsor exemption, was among nine players on three under par, two back. The group included Women’s British Open champion Mo Martin, Catriona Matthew and Gerina Piller.
Third-ranked Stacy Lewis is one over after an opening 72, while Michelle Wie opened with a disappointing 74.