Ariya Jutanugarn carded a first round 65 to lead the Olympic women’s golf competition in Rio de Janeiro, putting herself in good position to become Thailand’s first gold medalist outside of boxing and weightlifting.
The talented 20-year-old burst from the pack on a crowded leaderboard to set the pace at the Reserva de Marapendi Olympic Course as women’s golf made a triumphant return after a 116-year absence.
Ariya collected seven birdies and an eagle, offset by a double-bogey and bogey, to lead by one shot over two Koreans – former World No 1 Inbee Park, making her competitive return in a season curtailed by a thumb injury, and Sei Young Kim. 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 for Thailand in the British Women’s Open just two weeks ago.
“I think I’m going to be really excited, because I like to represent Thailand,” she said. “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.”
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.”
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 quartet 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.
For the full scores, click here.