Jutanugarn kicks off Kraft alongside Gulbis

Ariya Jutanugarn during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – One corner of the tee sheet was noticeably loaded Thursday afternoon for the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Draws such as Brittany Lincicome, Ai Miyazato, Suzann Pettersen, Juli Inkster, Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer created a post-lunch rush on the 10th tee as the first major got under way at Mission Hills Country Club.

As for the fourth and final pairing to that group? It was a bit like a game of “Which one of these things is not like the other?”

Ariya Jutanugarn, a 15-year-old amateur from Thailand, played opposite Natalie Gulbis in that group, gaining some much-deserved U.S. exposure from the crowds that lined the 10th-tee chute when the pair stepped to the plate. Jutanugarn, last year’s Women’s Amateur Public Links medalist and Golfweek’s top-ranked junior, entered the event off a T-8 finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand to open 2011.

Thursday was just another round in just another pro event for Jutanugarn, who had older sister Moriya on the bag. She shot 2-over 74 to Gulbis’ 73, and is T-54. After the round, she shook off any talk of nerves, explaining that her galleries are usually bigger when at home in Thailand.

“Her game is really impressive for 15 years old – very, very impressive,” Gulbis said after the round. “My caddie and I were talking about it coming down on 18. She strikes it really really good; she hits it long. All good things.”

Crowds were friendly to Jutanugarn – who drew maybe the largest applause when she nearly bounced it into the hole for a closing birdie at No. 9 – as she repeatedly hit fairways and got the ball in the hole when she needed to. She switched to a new TaylorMade Ghost putter just two days ago, and next month begins lessons with Dave Stockton. She didn’t have a single three-putt Thursday, helped by her caddie’s keen eye.

“She do everything perfect today. She (read) the green good today,” Ariya said of sister Moriya.

Jutanugarn gets another round with Gulbis in the morning, and she couldn’t be more pleased.

“I’m so excited when I know the pairing. I play with Natalie. ... She’s so famous, she’s so nice.”

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