Ariya Jutanguarn races to Round 1 lead at U.S. Women's Open

SHOAL CREEK, AL - MAY 31: Ariya Jutanugarn (R) of Thailand talks with Stacy Lewis on the 12th hole during the first round of the 2018 U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek on May 31, 2018 in Shoal Creek, Alabama. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Ariya Jutanguarn races to Round 1 lead at U.S. Women's Open

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Ariya Jutanguarn races to Round 1 lead at U.S. Women's Open

SHOAL CREEK, Ala. – The first time Ariya Jutanguarn saw the front nine at Shoal Creek was midway through Round 1 of the U.S. Women’s Open. Her golf clubs didn’t make it from Michigan to Alabama until Tuesday, and with the course closed all day due to the fallout from Tropical Storm Alberto, she was content to watch Thai dramas on her computer. With the golf course closed half the day on Wednesday due to electricity in the area, she could only get out for the back nine.

No problem. Jutanugarn trusted the advice of caddie Les Luark and blindly played the front nine in 2-under 34. After only nine holes of practice for the week, Jutanugarn posted a 5-under 67 on a soggy and steamy Shoal Creek to take a share of the lead with Sarah Jane Smith and Jeongeun6 Lee.

Michelle Wie, Danielle Kang and amateur Linn Grant are two back at 3 under.

“Yesterday when I got there and heard practice rounds are now open, I was like, should I get my canoe and start rowing?” joked Wie.

May 31, 2018; Shoal Creek, AL, USA; Michelle Wie lines up a putt on the ninth green during the first round of the U.S. Women's Open Championship golf tournament at Shoal Creek. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Michelle Wie kept things in line for a 69 Thursday at Shoal Creek, which left her in the clubhouse two shots back of the lead. (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

To her pleasant surprise, paddles weren’t required.

Plenty of players came into the first round worried about playing the ball down in the muck, particularly with so many rough patches in the fairways due to uncharacteristically tough winter and spring seasons. Nearly five inches of rain fell at Shoal Creek dating back to late Sunday afternoon. Since 1895 the USGA has never implemented a lift, clean and place policy at one of its championships. And they weren’t starting now.

There were mud balls. And it played long with virtually no rollout – Kang hit a 5-iron and a couple 4-irons into par-4s – but in most cases it was better than expected. The fact that Round 1 began on time and remained uninterrupted by weather delays was nothing short a miracle.

“It’s incredible that we played today and got a practice round in yesterday,” said Wie. “The greens staff did an amazing job. I mean the greens were perfectly fine. The fairways are fine. You would not have known that it rained so much.”

England’s Mel Reid said she actually felt bad playing a practice round on Wednesday afternoon, given how much the course was saturated.

“They were literally allowing players and caddies, that’s it,” said Reid. “No coaches or anything on the course. There’s certain areas that are really quite damaged. You’re chipping on pretty much casual water, but you are not getting casual water. So the easiest way to figure that out is to just hit greens.”

Reid, who got to 4 under through 16 holes before giving back a couple, switched swing coaches in the last month to Jorge Parada. Coming into the Women’s Open, Reid had missed the cut in eight of nine starts on the LPGA.

“I have busted my ass hitting balls,” said Reid, who shot 70. “Never worked so hard. I don’t know how he’s managed to get me working so hard, but he’s managed to tap into something.”

Lexi Thompson, who was particularly concerned about playing the ball down coming in, birdied two of her last four holes to fight back from a poor start and shoot 71.

“I was really amazed it wasn’t as wet as yesterday,” said Thompson. “Yesterday was a bit of a mud-fest. Yeah, they’re doing the best that they can with it. That’s all we can ask for. I did get a few mud balls but everybody is playing it that way.”

Grant, the leading amateur in a share of fourth, is competing in her first U.S. Women’s Open. The 18-year-old Swede, who will soon be headed to Arizona State, Grant won the 2017 Ladies British Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship at North Berwick, 49 years after her grandfather, James Grant of Inverness, won the Scottish Boys Championship at the same course.

Two more amateurs broke par on opening day: 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kristen Gillman and UCLA’s Patty Tavatanakit, who won four times as a freshman, both shot 70.

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