Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn shot an 8-under 64 on Wednesday to take a one-stroke lead over Suzann Pettersen and Hee Kyung Seo after the first round of the LPGA Lotte Championship.
The 17-year-old Ariya played the front nine at breezy Ko Olina in 6-under 30 in her afternoon round, dropped a stroke on the par-4 10th with her lone bogey, then eagled the par-5 14th and birdied the par-4 15th.
She matched the tournament record in second-year event after only getting into the field by winning a qualifier.
“I have very good front nine, but I just wanted to make more birdies,” Ariya said. “My record is 8 under and I want it to be lower. When I had bogey on 10, I thought I wasn’t really confident in my putting. So, when I had eagle, I was more confident.”
Ariya was in position to win the LPGA Thailand in February, only to triple bogey the final hole, handing victory to Inbee Park. She rebounded three weeks ago in Morocco, winning the Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Meryem Cup for her first professional title.
Pettersen had nine birdies and two bogeys in her morning round. The Norwegian is a 10-time winner on the LPGA Tour and won an LET event this year in China.
“I went out today and tried to be really aggressive,” said Pettersen, coming off a third-place tie two weeks in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. “My dad was so disappointed after the Kraft that I left all the putts short. He’s like, ‘You got to hit the ball past the hole to make putts.”‘
Seo, the 2010 Kia Classic winner, had a bogey-free round in the afternoon.
Hyo Joo Kim, the 17-year-old South Korean who played in a group with Ariya and 15-year-old New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko, matched Danielle Kang with a 66.
“It was very fun because everybody is young,” Jutanugarn said. “We’re friends. I’ve played with them before.”
Ko had a 71. She won the Canadian Open in August to become the youngest LPGA Tour winner at 15 years, 4 months, 2 days. The South Korea-born Ko has two other pro victories, the New South Wales Open last year and New Zealand Women’s Open this year, and won the US Women’s Amateur last season.
Second-ranked Stacy Lewis, the winner of consecutive events this year in Singapore and Phoenix, was three strokes back at 67 along with defending champion Ai Miyazato, Beatriz Recari, So Yeon Ryu, Jane Park, Rebecca Lee-Bentram, Jane Rah and Gerina Piller.
Recari, playing the back nine first in a group with Pettersen and Angela Stanford, Recari birdied four of the first six holes.
“We teed off at 7:50 and it was already blowing pretty hard, especially on the back nine,” the Spaniard said. “Those holes are really open to the ocean. It was a good challenge out there.”
She won the Kia Classic last month for her second LPGA Tour victory.
“When you win, you want to keep winning,” Recari said. “I didn’t feel like I just wanted to sit back and relax and just kind of cruise. You want to put yourself in that position again and, hopefully, get more trophies.”
Lee-Bentram opened with nine straight pars, then birdied five of the next seven holes in her bogey-free round.
“I just told myself to be patient,” Lee-Bentram said. “Putts weren’t going in on the front nine, but I was making pars. I knew if I kept making pars the birdies would come. It did happen.”
Ariya’s older sister, Moriya, had a 69.
Top-ranked Inbee Park, the Kraft Nabisco winner, was in a group at 70 that included local favourite Michelle Wie and Natalie Gulbis, playing her second tournament following a bout with malaria. Third-ranked Yani Tseng, winless in more than year, had a 71.