Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 5-under par 67 on Thursday to grab a share of the lead with Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith and South Korea’s Jeongeun Lee6 after the first round at the U.S. Women’s Open in Shoal Creek, Ala.
Danielle Kang and Michelle Wie are part of a four-way tie for fourth two shots back at 3-under, along with South Korea’s Ji-Hyun Kim and Swedish amateur Linn Grant. World No. 1 Inbee Park carded five birdies to help offset a trio of bogeys en route to a 2-under 70.
Other notable names to keep themselves in contention Thursday were No. 3 Lexi Thompson, amateur Lucy Li and New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who are all part of a pack of players at 1-under.
Defending champion Sung Hyun Park was one of several marquee players to struggle on a Shoal Creek course that was deluged by more than four inches of rain in recent days by Subtropical Storm Alberto. The fourth-ranked South Korean is tied for 98th at 4-over after finishing an inconsistent round that included four birdies, four bogies and a pair of double-bogeys.
She fared better than No. 2 Shanshan Feng, who sits in a tie for 134th at 6-over. The Chinese star didn’t record a single birdie on Thursday. Neither did Jessica Korda, who entered the week as the scoring leader on the LPGA Tour this season but stumbled to a 5-over 77 with four bogeys and a double.
The USGA made the call on Wednesday to play the ball as it lies rather than making an unprecedented decision to allow players to lift, clean and place their balls. Some players handled the wet course better than others, and Kang said she wasn’t worried about how her ball was sitting after her brother forced her to learn how to play “mud balls” while competing against each other as a teenager.
“The golf course is playing very long,” Kang said. “Definitely challenges every aspect of the game.
“It’s just like every other tournament. You’ve prepared the best you can, and done the best you can. So not being able to see the golf course one more time is not going to affect the way I play.”
As Smith put it, it has been a “weird week” for the players. She took to Google Maps to research the course while biding her time early in the week, but said the zoom function wasn’t advanced enough to be much help.
While Smith and others at least squeezed in nine holes of practice Monday, Jutanugarn was waiting for her clubs to arrive. With practice canceled Tuesday, she didn’t play the course until a nine-hole practice round Wednesday.
She proceeded to fire her lowest career round at a U.S. Women’s Open, an event she has never finished better than tied for 17th at.
“Maybe because I didn’t play much practice rounds and my clubs didn’t show up, so I was kind of was like ‘whatever, just go out and have fun,'” Jutanugarn said. “It’s always different every year, and the U.S. Open is always one of the biggest tournaments. But I’ve been working on my commitment, and it’s been getting better, so I didn’t think about it being the U.S. Open. … The only thing that I really want to work on is my commitment.”
Smith entered the week having missed five of her past six cuts. She acknowledged that her biggest hurdle over the final three rounds is overcoming her nerves.
“I do get nervous out there, so I think the more I put myself in that position the more that I can manage those nerves,” she said. “I would be good if I can get them under control. I need to kind of slow down and be quieter with everything.”
The “6” in Lee’s name is not a typo. The 22-year-old plays on the Korean LPGA Tour, where she is one of six players named Jeongeun Lee. Her fan club in South Korea is “Lucky 6,” and she held a share of the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open in 2017.
A year later, she is atop the leaderboard yet again. This time with a bogey-free 5-under opening round.
Among the chasers is Wie, who claimed her lone major title at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open.
“It’s incredible that we played today,” Wie said. “You would not have known that it rained that much. Considering how much rain it got, I don’t think it was that bad, really. It’s pretty impressive.”
Wie said she is having fun playing golf this season and believes that her attitude of “taking everything as an adventure” is helping her overcome the adversity players are facing this week.
“You always feel pressure at the U.S. Open,” Wie said. “You look forward to it the entire year. It’s our national championship, and there is a lot of pressure. But I’ve been really focusing on just trying to take the game as a game and playing it as a game. Worrying doesn’t really get you anywhere.”
NOTES: Inbee Park, 29, is a two-time U.S. Women’s Open winner. She is coming off a win on the Korean LPGA Tour and is also a two-time runner-up to go with five other top-10 finishes. … There has not been a repeat winner through the first 13 LPGA tournaments this year, and there have been 11 consecutive different winners of women’s majors. … Karrie Webb, the last player to win consecutive U.S. Women’s Opens (2000-01), received a special exemption into the tournament and is tied for 73rd at 3-over.
–Field Level Media