SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Michelle Wie has endured a startling decline since her U.S. Open triumph in 2014 following a string of niggling injuries but the American made the most of a couple of favors to climb to the top of the HSBC Women's Champions leaderboard on Thursday.

Ranked as high as world number two after her maiden major victory at Pinehurst, the 27-year-old Hawaiian has only managed one top-10 finish since and has undergone a series of swing and putting style changes in a bid to arrest her extended slump.

Now ranked a lowly 179, Wie was back to her best on a blustery day in Singapore, however, racking up eight birdies around the New Tanjong Course to move one shot clear of a strong field with an opening round six-under-par 66.

"It's a marathon this week, not a sprint, but I have to say I'm very proud of where I've positioned myself today, and hopefully the next three days I can keep it going, keep it rolling and keep having fun," Wie told reporters.


Wie's first favor came from the sponsors, who offered an invite for the popular American to line up in the 63-player restricted-field event. The second came from her coach David Leadbetter, who she leaned on for some putting advice last week.

"Yeah, I'm standing up now," Wie said of her technique on the greens after abandoning the bent over 'table top' stance she had used for two seasons.

"I was home (in Florida) last week and the men were playing, so my coach was there. I went to the Honda Classic and kind of stole him away for a little bit.

"I begged him to come over and watch me putt. We worked on it quite a bit. We made some changes to it and hopefully it's been working."

Wie added that it was a relief to feel healthy again but with a power-packed quintet that includes Ariya Jutanugarn and Park In-bee breathing down her neck just a stroke back, she cannot afford to take her foot off the accelerator.

"Yeah, you know, it feels good to play without much pain. To go out there and just play some golf and focus on my game rather than trying to finish out rounds. I'm very proud of myself today," she said.

"Putting myself in a position, it's always exciting to be on the top of the leaderboard or near the top of the leaderboard.

"Even though it's just the first day I want to just keep building and hopefully the next three days I can take it day by day, hole by hole, shot by shot and play as hard as I can."

(Reporting by John O'Brien; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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