Golf: Thai Ariya Jutanugarn off to impressive start as three share US Women's Open lead

Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand plays a tee shot on the 11th hole during the first round of the 2018 US Women's Open at Shoal Creek, on May 31, 2018.
Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand plays a tee shot on the 11th hole during the first round of the 2018 US Women's Open at Shoal Creek, on May 31, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (AFP) - Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn had to overcome an abbreviated Wednesday practice round to fire a five-under-par 67 and grab a share of the opening round lead at the rain-hit US Women's Open on Thursday (May 31).

Ariya set the early pace in the morning session, mastering the sodden conditions to end the day in a three-way tie atop the leaderboard with Australia's Sarah Jane Smith and South Korea's Lee Jeong-eun6.

Call it blind luck, or whatever you want, but Ariya got off to an impressive start at the major championship despite not being able to practice on the front nine at all ahead of Thursday's first round because her clubs didn't arrive with her flight.

"My golf bag didn't come on Monday," said Ariya, who like the rest of the field also saw practice rounds limited by heavy rain this week.

"I played only nine holes yesterday. I played the back nine so it was tough for me today because I didn't see the front .... I pretty much trust my caddie. I know he is going to do a good job so I can trust him."

The rain at Alabama's Shoal Creek course gave way to sunshine for the start of the first round. Ariya, fresh from a superb victory at the LPGA Kingsmill Championship two weeks ago, took advantage to post five birdies and an eagle with two bogeys.

The 22-year-old from Bangkok maintained the conditions at Shoal Creek were more challenging than they appeared after the rain.

"The course is playing pretty tough, and some holes pretty long," she said. "It's pretty wet and it's pretty hard to have like good distance, second shot to the green."

Ariya said her recent run of form was the result of intensive work on her short game. On Thursday, Ariya hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation and tallied only 28 putts across 18 holes.

"My game has been improving every week because I work so hard with my short game," said Ariya, who won five times in 2016. "The last few months I have been playing pretty good."

Ariya is not looking too far ahead however. "I'm not going to think about the outcome," she said. "I'm not going to think about winning the tournament."

Ariya is tied with Smith and Lee while another trio of golfers, Smith fired an eagle and five birdies with two bogeys to join the leading group.

Lee, who carries the number "6" alongside her name to distinguish her from five other Korean golfers who share the same name, had five birdies without a bogey.

The trio were two shots in front of former US Open winner Michelle Wie, 18-year-old amateur Linn Grant of Sweden and American Danielle Kang.

Wie's round included back-to-back birdies on her 11th and 12th holes, part of an error-free back nine display.

The 28-year-old from Hawaii said she was surprised at the condition of the course following the deluge earlier this week. "It's mind-blowing how great the golf course is," she said. "The greens staff, they've been working day and night trying to get this golf course ready and have done an amazing job."

World No. 1 Park In-bee headed a group on 12 players on 70 that also included Australia's Su Oh, American Nelly Korda and Denmark's Emily Pedersen.

"Today was a good putting day," said seven-time major championship winner Park. "The golf course was actually much better than I expected.

"You are going to get some mud balls around this golf course. I got a couple that was pretty bad and it hooked into trees and stuff like that. Everybody is in the same boat."