Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn struck an eagle and seven birdies in an eight-under-par 64 on Wednesday to grab a one-shot lead after the first round of the LPGA Lotte Championship.
Ariya hit six birdies in her first nine holes, her only miscue of the day after a bogey at the par-four 10th. However, she bounced back with an eagle at the par-five 14th, where she drained a 20-footer.
“I had a really good front nine, but I just wanted to make more birdies,” said the 17-year-old, who was hoping to beat her personal best of eight-under for a round.
“When I have bogey on No. 10 I feel not very confident with my putting. So when I have eagle it made me more confident,” she added.
Ariya, a rookie on the Ladies European Tour this season, won her first professional title at the LET tournament in Morocco last month.
She qualified for this week’s tournament at Ko Olina Golf Club by winning a qualifier on Sunday.
“I was very confident today,” said Ariya, who was in contention for an LPGA tour title in her native Thailand in February, only to surrender a two-stroke lead at the final hole in a tournament won by South Korea’s Inbee Park.
She had a one-shot lead on Wednesday over Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and South Korean Seo Hee-kyung. South Korea’s Kim Hyo-joo and the US’ Danielle Kang were a shot further adrift on 66.
Kim played in a group with Ariya and 15-year-old New Zealand sensation Lydia Ko, who has yet to turn pro. Ko carded a 71.
“It was very fun because everybody is young,” Ariya said of the group. “We’re friends. I’ve played with them before.”
Pettersen teed off on 10 and made five of her nine birdies on her second nine.
Already a winner on the Ladies European Tour this season, Pettersen said she wanted to be aggressive — especially after her equal third place finish in the Kraft Nabisco Championship won by Park.
South Korea’s Park, newly installed as the world No. 1, carded a 70.
Stacy Lewis, who can regain the top ranking this week, shot a 67, while Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, who could also move back to the No. 1 spot with a victory this week, carded a 71.
“I think it’s good for the tour when players are going back and forth, and creating scenarios of if so-and-so wins they could be No. 1,” Lewis said. “I like that. It’s fun now. You’re checking what Yani is doing, you’re checking what In-bee is doing. I think it’s a good thing for the tour.”
The other Taiwanese players in the tournament, Amy Hung and Candie Kung, both carded an even-par 72.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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