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.”
Quotes of the Day – Round 1
Ariya Jutanugarn 65 (-6): “I like (the Village) a lot. Before I came here I had no idea what it’s going to be like. When I got into the Village, I liked it. I love it a lot. I’m a roommate with the badminton players from Thailand and I have had a chance to watch them play a few matches. Pretty good.”
Inbee Park 66 (-5): “I think that this (the Olympic Games) could be the highlight of my career. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity. I’ve won a lot of the major championships but, obviously, in the Olympic Games, you get to only do it once every four years, so being able to be standing here representing South Korea is something very special and very meant to be. (I am) so very happy to be here. It’s a huge honour, and like I said, it could be the highlight of my golfing career.”
Nicole Broch Larsson 67 (-4): “It was fun out there. I didn’t really think about it as the Olympics. It was another round of golf and I tried to focus on my own things. It was different waking up in the Olympic Village instead of in a single room at another hotel. It’s just been a really cool experience so far and I’m really enjoying my time down here. I’ve got my brother and my dad here, and we have a few others from the Danish Golf Union. It’s really nice to get support.”
Candie Kung 67 (-4): “I actually went to Vegas for a wedding before I came here, so I didn’t get here till Monday afternoon. It was one of my best friends from high school. She planned it around me. She thought I had three weeks off. She forgot there’s the Olympics! When I got to the course, it was blowing so hard I couldn’t even walk it.”
Carlota Ciganda 67 (-4): “Watching Rafa (Nadal) is the best. He’s my hero. When you watch that guy playing tennis – the way he runs, the way he fights, it’s just another planet. You can see he’s not playing great, but he still wins. And when he’s under pressure, he plays even better. I had breakfast with him, and without competing 2 ½ months, he won the (doubles) Gold Medal and finished fourth (in singles). We’ve played twice. He loves golf. I think he’s one of the best athletes in Spanish history.”
Aditi Ashok 68 (-3): “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.”
Lexi Thompson 68 (-3): “The nerves were there, that’s for sure. It is a whole different feeling, just stepping on that tee, saying that you’re an Olympian golfer. There’s nothing like that. It was an adrenaline rush. Hopefully we’ll get more and more people out on that first tee as the days go by, but it was an amazing feeling to have.”
Gerina Piller 69 (-2): When golf came back in the Olympics, I thought, it’s like, wow, here is my chance to go to the Olympics, and never thought I would be standing here giving an interview about being in the Olympics. It’s just a dream come true. “
Stacy Lewis 70 (-1): “You can’t even compare this to a major. You have majors, you have LPGA events. You can’t even compare it to the Solheim Cup. It’s different. It’s the Olympics. It has a different feel about it. I don’t even know what to compare it to. I think it’s a good thing that it’s different. It doesn’t need to be compared with a major or any of that stuff. It’s its own deal, and you know, we are 60 players here, are forever Olympians, and that’s cool.”
Leona Maguire (Ireland) 74 (+3): Talking about following the men: ““I think for me, the best players in the world are here – that’s their job. That’s not my job this week. I’m just out there to have as much fun as I can and do as well as I can, and that’s up to Lydia and Brooke and Ariya and those girls to show that they are the best players in the world. For me, it’s just a bonus being here.”
Miriam Nagl (Brazil) 79 (+8): Talking about hitting the first Olympic women’s tee shot in 116 years: “It was nerve‑wracking, to be honest. I was very nervous, but what an honour that I could be hitting this shot. It means so much to me – being in my home country and golf being back in the Olympic Games, and (the fact that) I have a little daughter now. It was just very special to me.”