First round of U.S. Women’s Open has 24 players under par and within four shots of lead

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – At the completion of the first round of the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek on Thursday, May 31, the leaderboard featured a little bit of everything.

Inside the top 10 are some of the best players in the world, one of the most popular American golfers in the world and three amateur golfers.

On top of the crowded leaderboard, however, are three players. Ariya Jutanugarn from Thailand, Sarah Smith from Australia, and Jeongeun6 Lee, all three of which fired an opening round score of 67 to post 5-under par.

Lee was the only one of the three players that didn’t card a bogey in the first round, firing a 34 on the front nine and a 33 on the back nine to finish off a consistent round.

“My main strategy today was not to have a bogey, and I think that worked,” Lee said. “And also when I went to a more difficult situation, I tried not to get into trouble. I stayed out of it.”

Jutanugarn, who didn’t even get her clubs to the course until Tuesday because of a problem with the airline, was pleased with her first round.

“I had a pretty good day today,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m going to say my game been improving I feel like every week because I work so hard with my short game.”

While Smith also had a good day on the course, it was a back-nine 31 that has her in a tie for the lead. After shooting an even-par 36 on the front nine, Smith eagled the11th hole, birdied 13 and 14 and then birdied 17 to move to 5-under par on the back nine alone.

“It was a bit of rough start,” Smith said. “I holed a couple of maybe like 10, 15 footers for par on the first and second or third. And then kind of turned things around on 11.”

By turn things around on 11, Smith was speaking of a hole out for eagle that immediately seemed to jolt her round in the right direction.

“I think it made a difference,” she said. “Instead of just cruising around even or 1-over, to get to 2-under kind, it gives you a little bit of a comfort, I think.”

Behind those three atop the leaderboard is three players at 3-under par, including popular American Michelle Wie, as well as fellow American Danielle Kang and amateur Linn Grant.

Wie, who was positive and up beat after her round, played the front nine (started on hole 10) at 1-under par, while posting a 2-under 34 on her back nine.

“I had fun today,” Wie said. “Played a pretty decent round, which I’m always happen with at a U.S. Open. We had a great group today, Jess (Korda) and Lexi (Thompson). We had a blast out there.”

It was a grouping that featured three of the best and most popular Americans in the sport.

Thompson ended up finishing her opening round at 1-under in a tie for 19th thanks to a battle that featured a birdie on the closing hole. She was 1-over through 13 holes, but battled back with two closing birdies in her last four holes.

“I feel pretty good,” said Thompson, the third ranked player in the world. “Definitely left some putts out there, but overall, I hit it very well. I fought strong today.”

Wie was also able to end the day with some confidence. Despite it not being the birdie Thompson had, Wie was forced to lay up on the par-4 ninth hole due to a difficult mud ball in the rough.

She narrowly holed out her third shot for birdie and went on to tap in for a closing par.

“I was over the ball and I was like to my caddy, ‘I can still make par from here,’” Wie said. “He replied with ‘Yeah, you can potentially make birdie too.’ I knew as soon as I hit the cup I could hear my caddy saying, ‘I told you so.’ I think it was definitely very important to keep the momentum going, yeah.”

With a total of 24 players under par and 21 within four shots of the lead, the tournament is off to a solid start and should create for an exciting Friday before the cut is made heading into the weekend.

Other popular names under par include Nelly Korda and Inbee Park, both of who are at 2-under par, as well as Lydia Ko, who is at 1-under par.

Almost as impressive as all of that is the three amateur golfers that are under par and in the top 20 after day one. Grant leads that group at 3-under par, while Patty Tavatanakit and the University of Alabama’s Kristen Gillman are both at 2-under.

Friday’s tee times will get under way at 6:40 a.m., with two of the leaders teeing off before 8 a.m.

Wie and the featured group of Americans will tee off of the first hole at 1:26 p.m. with a strong group of afternoon tee times.