Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Ariya Jutanugarn delivered another masterclass in a season overflowing with dominant performances by shooting a six-under-par 65 to grab the lead after the first round of the Olympic women’s golf competition.
The talented 20-year-old Thai burst from the pack on a crowded leaderboard to set the standard on the Reserva de Marapendi Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, on a day when women’s Olympic golf made a triumphant return after a 116-year absence.
Victory and a gold medal this week would set the seal on a phenomenal year for Ariya, who reeled off three wins in consecutive starts on the LPGA Tour before landing a first major championship for Thailand in the British Women’s Open just two weeks ago. Olympic glory would be a fifth win – appropriately in view of the association with the five Olympic Rings.
“I think I’m going to be really excited, because I like to represent Thailand,” said Ariya. We want to be the best and have the gold medal for Thailand. I think it’s going to be great if I have it.”
Ariya collected seven birdies and an eagle, offset by a double-bogey and bogey, in lowering the best score over the new Gil Hanse and Amy Alcott-designed Olympic course which stood at 66 for just two hours, courtesy of South Korea’s Park In-bee.
Park, one of four South Korean players in the 60-strong field, emerged with great credit from her competitive return in a season curtailed by a ligament problem in her left thumb by carding a five-under-par 66, the same mark as her compatriot Kim Sei-young.
Nicole Broch Larsson of Denmark, Candie Kung of Chinese Taipei and Carlota Ciganda of Spain, forced their way into contention on 67, four-under-par, Among those on 68 is Great Britain’s Charley Hull, who is seeking to emulate Justin Rose’s gold medal performance in the men’s competition.
There was also a strong showing from Aditi Ashok. After carding a 68, the Indian said: “I’ve played the Youth Olympics, as well. I’ve kind of had that experience of playing that and it made me want to play in the Olympics as well.
“This is my rookie year. Getting the experience and playing for India and trying to win a medal for my country doesn’t get better than that. It would be huge for women’s golf in India, because we don’t have that many girls playing and this will definitely boost the popularity of the game in India and that’s what we need. So I hope I can do that.”
Hong Kong amateur Tiffany Chan posted an even-par 71 for a share of 26th place.
World number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand holed her nine-iron second shot from 136 yards for an eagle two on the 15th, a stunning shot which helped her into a tie for 11th place on 69.