Golf: Pajaree leads Thai charge in Evian first round as Korda struggles

Pajaree Anannarukarn (above) enjoyed pride of place at the top of the leaderboard with a six under par 65. PHOTO: AFP

EVIAN, FRANCE (AFP) - Thai golfers dominated the top of the leaderboard at the Evian Championship on Thursday (July 22) with Pajaree Anannarukarn enjoying pride of place with a six under par 65 and a share of the first round lead.

American Yealimi Noh was on the same mark but among the closest chasers were the Thailand trio of Atthaya Thitikul (66), former world No. 1, Ariya Jutanugarn (67) and her older sister Moriya (68).

Pajaree has had a couple of top tens on the LPGA Tour this season and was the only player to produce a bogey free round.

"It was great out there," said the 22-year-old in just her third season as a professional.

"There is a long way to go and I just hope I can go out and do the same thing tomorrow."

Atthaya is already a star in her homeland.

As a 14-year-old amateur she won the 2017 Thailand Championship on the Ladies European Tour to become the youngest player to win a professional golf tournament.

In 2018, she was the leading amateur at the Women's British Open.

She repeated the Thailand Championship win at the age of 16 in 2019 and, having turned professional in 2020, added a third LET win in last month's Czech Open.

"I played here as a 14-year-old (she missed the cut) so I know the course a little bit," said the 18-year-old, who was in a five-way tie for third place on five under par.

"I try not to put too much pressure on myself. Just go out and enjoy it."

The Jutanugarns are riding high after an emotional victory at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational team event last weekend.

It meant they only arrived at Evian a day later than planned on Monday.

"I started on the back nine snd didn't start too well but the front nine was much better," said Ariya, a two-time major champion who ended her round by holing a chip shot for an eagle at the ninth.

Noh started her day in spectacular style, sinking a nine iron for an eagle two at the opening hole.

"I have never done that before, but sometimes it is tough when you start so well," she said.

"You want to take advantage. I am really happy with the round - just hope I can open with an eagle again tomorrow."

Some of the bigger names struggled on Thursday.

World number one Nelly Korda, bidding for a second successive major after winning the LPGA title last month, had a fresh air shot in a bunker - she hit the bank on the downswing - and signed for a 74.

Older sister Jessica was just a shot better.

Park Inbee, who will be trying to win a second successive Olympic gold medal in Tokyo later this month, had a double-bogey seven at the 18th for a disappointing 71.

Fellow South Korean, Ko Jin-young, the defending champion, also needs to improve to make sure of getting to the weekend.

The world number two had five bogeys in a one over par 72.

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