U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Three Tied for Lead After Round 1 at Shoal Creek May 31, 2018 | Shoal Creek, Ala. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Five birdies and an eagle propelled Ariya Jutanugarn to a 5-under 67 at Shoal Creek on Thursday. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

73rd U.S. Women’s Open Championship | #USWomensOpen
Shoal Creek, Shoal Creek, Ala.
Round 1: Par 72, 6,653 yards | Hole Locations

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What Happened

Three players – two of whom had only played nine holes of the course before Round 1 – toured Shoal Creek in 5-under-par 67 on Thursday to share a two-stroke advantage over the rest of the field in the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn, of Thailand, and Sarah Jane Smith, of Australia, both made eagles on par 5s, while Jeongeun6 Lee, of the Republic of Korea, played a bogey-free round to join them atop the leader board on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Shoal Creek, which absorbed more than 4½ inches of rain from subtropical storm Alberto over the previous four days.

“I walked them all,” said Smith, 33, who played only holes 10-18 after rain forced officials to close the course on Tuesday. “I got to chip and putt on every green. I think it kind of worked out better.”

Smith holed out a 52-degree wedge from 85 yards on the 519-yard 11th hole for an eagle, jump-starting her incoming nine of 31, as she rebounded from five missed cuts in her previous six starts on the LPGA Tour.

“It just fit sort of perfectly into one of my numbers,” said Smith of the eagle. “I’ve hit the pin a couple of times lately, but I haven't had one go in for years, so it was fun to see one go in.”

Jutanugarn made an eagle on her 15th hole – the 479-yard sixth – a hole she was playing for the first time after her clubs failed to arrive until Monday night. No matter. Jutanugarn walked the course with just her putter on Monday and got in nine holes, the back nine, on Wednesday afternoon. She said she relied on her caddie, Les Luark, to offset two bogeys with five birdies and the eagle, a 9-foot putt that was set up by a 5-iron second shot from 210 yards.

Lee, a four-time winner on the Korea LPGA Tour, got in three nine-hole practice rounds before the championship. She tied for fifth last year at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., in her first U.S. Women’s Open.

Jutanugarn won her eighth LPGA Tour event, the Kingsmill Championship, on May 20 and is No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. But her success has not carried over to the U.S. Women’s Open, where she missed the cut in four of her previous five career starts. Jutanugarn’s 67 marked just her second sub-70 score in 13 U.S. Women’s Open rounds.

“I feel like my game’s been improving every week because I work so hard with my short game,” said Jutanugarn, 22, who captured the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, then caddied for big sister Moriya later that summer when Moriya reached the U.S. Women’s Amateur final, losing to two-time champion Danielle Kang.

Kang, 25, of Las Vegas, Nev., whose lone professional victory is last year’s KPMG Women’s PGA, was one of three players to card rounds of 3-under 69 on Thursday, along with 2014 Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie and amateur Linn Grant, 18, of Sweden, who is competing in her first Women’s Open.  

Twelve players, including two-time Women’s Open champion Inbee Park and amateurs Kristen Gillman and Patty Tavatanakit, finished at 2-under 70. Two-time major champion Lydia Ko and 2017 Women’s Open runner-up Hye-Jin Choi were among a group of six players at 1-under 71.

Sarah Jane Smith carded a sparkling 5-under 31 on her second nine on Thursday, moving her to the top of the leader board. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

Notable

  • Kristen Gillman, 20, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion who just finished her sophomore year at NCAA runner-up Alabama, became the first amateur since Grace Park in 1999 to card a bogey-free round in her 2-under 70. “I feel like it was kind of crazy because I definitely didn't have my ball-striking out there,” said Gillman, of Austin, Texas, who played with Crimson Tide alum Emma Talley (74) and Cydney Clanton (75), a graduate of archrival Auburn. “Luckily, my short game was able to save it.”

  • Amateur Linn Grant, 18, of Sweden, had one of the best rounds of the day, a 3-under 69 that included six birdies. Grant qualified for the championship on May 14 in Buckinghamshire, England, winning that sectional qualifier by seven strokes, then flew home so she could take a math exam at 8 a.m. the next day. Grant has verbally committed to Arizona State.

  • Defending champion Sung Hyun Park struggled to a 4-over 76, while 2007 champion Cristie Kerr shot 1-over 73 and 2015 champion In Gee Chun shot 74. So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 winner, shot 1-over 73; Paula Creamer, the 2010 champion, and Brittany Lang, the 2016 winner, both shot 5-over 77.

  • The field combined for a stroke average of 74.7, with a pair of par 4s playing as the most difficult holes in relation to par – the 415-yard 12th (4.51) and the 412-yard fourth (4.49). The 475-yard, par-5 sixth hole played as the easiest in relation to par (4.81).

Quotable

2014 champion Michelle Wie, who opened with a 3-under 69, raved about the conditions at Shoal Creek:

“It’s mind-blowing how great the golf course is. The green staff, they’ve been working day and night trying to get this golf course ready and have done an amazing job. I thought there was no chance we could play a practice round [Wednesday], and the greens were actually great, today even better.”

Mel Reid, of England, who is working with new coach Jorge Parada and saw the effort pay off in a round of 2-under 70:

“Obviously my confidence hasn’t been great. But the work that we have done and the hours that we have put in is making me confident. I’m kind of enjoying working hard.”

Danielle Kang, who got advice over the phone about Shoal Creek from Trey Mullinax, a PGA Tour pro who plays there, before her opening round of 69:

“I definitely went into some places he told me not to go to. It happened three or four times, but it’s OK, I saved it.”

Sarah Jane Smith, who has never won on the LPGA Tour and missed the cut in five of her last six events, on sharing the lead after Round 1:

“The last few weeks have been pretty rough, so it’s nice to get a good start. Tomorrow morning, I’ve got to make sure that it’s just a new day and not worry too much about where I am. Whether that’s possible, I don’t know.”

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

 

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