Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand 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 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 Jutanugarn, 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 Jutanugarn. 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.”
Jutanugarn 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 Inbee Park.
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 Korean teammate, Sei Young Kim.
Three players, 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, with a quarter of golfers on 68, including Great Britain’s Charley Hull, who is seeking to emulate Justin Rose’s gold medal performance in the men’s competition.
World No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand did her cause no harm by holing 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.
Ko, who at 19 already has two majors to her name, said: “It was my first eagle at the Olympics, so I think it’s great. At the men’s last week, I think there were two hole‑in‑ones and a few eagles, and I put my contribution to golf by making an eagle, I think is a really good feeling, and especially since I was even par at that point in my round. So to go from zero to two‑under-par was a great turnaround.”
Park, who has been resting in preparation for the Olympics for the majority of the past two months, completed an error-free card and laughed: “Bogey free – it’s been a while! It feels great. It wasn’t too windy out there this morning, so I had a lot of birdie opportunities. I had a really good ball‑striking day and I’m very satisfied with today’s round.
“My injury felt pretty good and everything felt like I was quite ready. I’m very happy to see the results like today. It’s a good confidence boost. I felt quite nervous this morning, teeing off, and being able to overcome that kind of nerves feels great.”