Nordqvist had six birdies and an eagle against two bogeys on the day for a 6-under-par 66, which left her one stroke ahead of Michelle Wie.
Top-ranked Inbee Park, in her first LPGA event of the year, was 3-over on the front side but 4-under on the second nine for a 1-under 71. Park is the tournament's defending champion.
Nordqvist was 3-under through the first three holes of play and added birdies at Nos. 8 and 12 -- both pars 3s -- before back-to-back bogeys at 13 and 14. She answered that with an eagle at the par-4 15th, spinning back a 59-yard pitch for a 2. A birdie at the 17th hole left her alone in first.
Wie, starting her tournament at the 10th hole, also had three consecutive birdies, a string that started on No. 18 and carried over to 1 and 2. She finished with six birdies and one bogey on the round.
Stanford's 68 featured four birdies, two bogeys and a hole-in-one at the par-3 eighth hole. Thompson began her day with an eagle at the par-5 first and had three birdies and one bogey the rest of the way. Johnson had five birdies and one bogey Thursday.