South Korea‘s Ji Eun-Hee took the first round lead at the Honda LPGA Thailand 2019 tournament on Thursday with an opening round of nine-under par 63, only one shot short of the course record, after a near faultless display on the opening day.
But while the South Korean was at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day, the large contingent of Thai players were not far behind after an exciting first round that included a hole-in-one, some eagles and birdies by the local stars.
Eun-Hee, who won the first LPGA event of the year and is leading the score averages on the LPGA tour, had 10 birdies in her opening round at the Siam Country Club Pattaya‘s Old Course in Pattaya.
“I just hit it great, I changed my swing a little bit and I changed a little bit of my putting style and I made a lot of putts,” she said after Thursday’s round. “The pressure is right off after winning the first tournament of the year. The early win has taken the pressure off.
“I’ve been here [to Thailand] a lot of times and I’ve acclimatized to the heat. I changed my swing for my long game and that helped on this course.”
Three players are tied for second place after carding seven under par rounds of 65 – Jenny Shin of South Korea, Danielle Kang from United States and Australia‘s Minjee Lee.
The eight Thai players in the field made the most of the big home crowd support and were very much in contention after their first rounds, and thrilled their many supporters with some quality shots.
Local girl Thidapa Suwannapura earned a huge round of applause and cheers when she scored a spectacular hole-in-one on the fourth. “To be honest, I was hoping to make par but I was very happy to get the hole-in-one and I hope it made the Thai fans happy,” she said after her round, finishing with an even-par 72.
Crowd favourite and world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn also had her supporters cheering when she scored an eagle three on the par-five seventh as well as knocking in six birdies on the challenging Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course. Ariya was the best of the Thai players in Thursday’s opening round and finished tied in 10th place with six others after carding a four-under 68.
“I just feel like it’s so special to come back and play in my home country, so to me this is one of the biggest tournaments,” Ariya said after her round. “There were a lot of fans cheering me on and I was so nervous during the first few holes, but after that it was okay. I had so much fun today.”
The Thai star said she was reasonably happy with her game, but once again kept her driver in her bag. She has not been confident using driver in her last few tournaments and has opted for a three-iron instead. “I didn’t use the driver today, but I have been practicing with it,” she added.
Meanwhile, Ariya’s elder sister Moriya finished with a round of 69 that included six birdies, but her total also included three bogies and left her tied in 16th place with 13 other players.
One of those sharing 16th place was Nelly Korda, who won last week’s Australian Open. The defending champion is Nelly’s sister Jessica, who is not taking part this year due to injury.
Thai amateur player and crowd favourite Attaya Thitikul, who turned 16 on Wednesday, ended the day with a two-under 70, while Pornanong Phatlum had a 71. Other Thai players in the field included Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras and hole-in-one star Thidapa Suwannapura, who both finished with even-par rounds of 72.
A smiling Attaya said after her round: “I felt good after I scored my first birdie. I think this is a good start for me. The greens were very tough and putting was hard for me, but I enjoyed playing with some very experienced professionals and that gave me confidence. I will do my best over the next three days.”
Local girl Benyapa Niphatsophon ended the day with a three-over 75, while compatriot Pajaree Anannnarukarn had a 77 and finished the day at the tail end of the field.
Seventy of the best women’s players in the world are battling for total prize money of US$1.6 million, with the winner receiving $240,000 and the New Honda Civic 1.5 L. DOHC VTEC TURBO, TURBO RS Variant worth 1,219,000 THB for a hole in-one winner on the 16th hole.