SHOAL CREEK, Ala., May 31 (Reuters) - Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn shrugged off her lack of course knowledge to take the clubhouse lead with a five-under-par 67 in the opening round at the U.S. Women’s Open on Thursday.
Despite wet conditions which made the Shoal Creek course play longer than usual, the powerful Ariya eschewed her driver in favour of a three-wood off the tee.
The tactic paid off handsomely as she largely avoided the wiry rough and took advantage of soft greens to fire approach shots to within birdie range with monotonous regularity.
An eagle at her 15th hole, the par-five sixth, where she hoisted a five-iron to five feet, capped off a near perfect day in the office for the world number five.
“My game was pretty good today,” said Ariya, who headed Americans Michelle Wie and Danielle Kang by two strokes with half the field back in the clubhouse.
Even though more than six inches of rain fell on the course between Sunday night and Wednesday morning, play started on time at the crack of dawn.
The U.S. Golf Association stuck to its plan not to allow preferred lies, despite objections from some competitors who complained luck would become a big factor if players were not allowed to wipe mud from the balls.
But there were few gripes from the early starters, at least from those who shot good scores.
Ariya, who won the Kingsmill Championship two weeks ago, was one of many players who started the first round without the benefit of even a full practice round.
She could not play on Monday because her clubs went missing on the flight to Birmingham and then had to wait patiently on Tuesday when the course was closed due to the wet conditions.
Nine holes on Wednesday was the best she could muster.
“It’s tough for me today because I didn’t see the front (nine),” said Ariya, 22, who became the first Thai player to win a major title when she captured the 2016 Women’s British Open.
Wie, meanwhile, was surprised at the condition of the course.
“It’s mind blowing how great the golf course is,” said the former child prodigy and 2014 champion.
“They’ve done an amazing job. I had a couple of mud balls that went in completely different directions to what I thought they were going to do.
“For the most part, it wasn’t really as bad as I thought it was going to be. I thought I was going to get half the ball covered in mud on every shot.” (Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Ken Ferris)