Little practice but Ariya surges to top

Ariya Jutanugarn playing her tee shot on the 18th hole in the US Women's Open first round. She is co-leader after her 67.
Ariya Jutanugarn playing her tee shot on the 18th hole in the US Women's Open first round. She is co-leader after her 67.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHOAL CREEK (Alabama) • Days after waiting for her golf clubs to arrive, Ariya Jutanugarn managed an abbreviated practice round before firing a five-under 67 to grab a share of the opening-round lead at the US Women's Open.

The Thai set the early pace in Thursday's morning session of the the Major championship, 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 Eun.

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.

"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 trusted 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 her Kingsmill Championship win two weeks ago, took advantage to post five birdies and an eagle with two bogeys.

The 22-year-old said her recent run of form was the result of intensive work on her short game.

On Thursday, she hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation and needed only 28. Three shots back was 18-year-old compatriot Patty Tavatanakit, the latest in a growing production line of talent to emerge from her homeland and one of seven Thais in the 156-player field.

The battle-hardened amateur, who plays for the University of California, Los Angeles, looked the part against the game's top professionals, recording only one bogey in an almost blemish-free round at Shoal Creek.

She said she and other young Thais had been inspired by the feats of the Jutanugarn sisters, former world No. 1 Ariya and Moriya, who between them have nine LPGA victories - eight by Ariya and one by Moriya.

"It really drives everyone, the younger generation, to be up here," she said.

"Seeing they can do it proves to us that we can be up here too. It really drives the younger generation."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

US WOMEN'S OPEN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2018, with the headline 'Little practice but Ariya surges to top'. Print Edition | Subscribe