Ann Arbor – Ariya Jutanugarn has a shot at an impressive feat this week at the Volvik Championship, and it’s something that seemed far from likely just a couple of years ago.
A victory at the inaugural event at Travis Pointe Country Club would be her third straight, something that hasn’t happened since Inbee Park pulled it off in 2013. The native of Thailand got off to a great start Thursday, firing an opening-round 7-under 65, just missing a birdie on the final hole and trailing Christina Kim by one shot.
“Today a little bit windy on the back nine and I just have to control my ball flight today,” Jutanugarn said. “My tee shot pretty good, my iron was good today. First round so I'm not really try to do anything, just try to make birdie every hole.”
She got seven of those without a bogey, and it continued an impressive run that has included eight straight rounds in the 60s and 11 in the last 12.
It’s the sort of performance others on tour have seen before and were certain would return.
“I'm just so proud of her,” Kim said. “She's such an incredible young woman. She's very shy for as aggressive a golfer as she is, which I think is comical. … It's so cool with her and her sister Moriya being out here. Moriya's not too far away from her first win, either.
“I think it's just so cool. I think that hopefully Ariya will soon see the kind of golfer that we all see her as, which is terrifying.”
There was plenty of that when Jutanugarn was a 17-year-old.
In just five LPGA Tour events in 2013, the native of Thailand finished second, fourth, third, third and fourth. And all of that was as a non-member of the LPGA. Later that year, she earned her first professional victory at the Lalla Meryem Cup on the Ladies European Tour.
But things went off track quickly when Jutanugarn suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and an eight-month break. Her world-ranking plummeted, but by 2014, she finished tied for third at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament to earn her card for 2015.
There were flashes of the old magic with top-three finishes in two of the first three tournaments while she closed the season with a couple of top-10s.
This season, it’s come slowly, but Jutanugarn tied for sixth the week before winning the Yokohama Tire Classic that was followed by a win last week at the Kingsmill Championship.
Now she’ll try to put together another sub-70 round today.
“I just keep playing my game,” she said, “keep like trying to make birdie every hole.”
The ills of golf
Inbee Park is the No. 2-ranked player in the world, but that hardly means she’s immune to the ills of golf. She bogeyed three of her first five holes and finished the front nine a 2-over 38.
Things really got out of hand on the 10th, however, as Park scored a nine on the 394-yard par-4 for a quintuple bogey. She later had a double-bogey 7 at the 462-yard par-5 14th hole and closed with three more bogeys for a 12-over 84. It was only the second round of her career in the 80s and Park announced after the round she would withdraw.
It comes a week after she was forced to withdraw at Kingsmill because of a thumb injury.
“It was a torture out there today,” Park said. “I really wanted to finish it off today and just -- I just didn't want to give it up in the middle of the round like last week. So that was really the main goal. Obviously I'm just really restricted on my swing, to make a couple movements it's painful.”
Two other players withdrew on Thursday, including Haru Nomura, ranked second on the official money list, and Perrine Delacour.
Sarah Hoffman thought she had seen every shot possible at Travis Pointe. The sponsor’s exemption from Saline was playing her first LPGA tournament at the course she’s been playing since she was 5.
But on No. 18, she found herself near the first tee and right behind the scoreboard.
“Never. Never,” Hoffman joked when asked if she’d ever played that shot. “I told somebody there’s not a shot out here I haven’t faced but that was one of them.”
Hoffman got relief and saved par, one of the bright spots on her back nine. She finished with a 4-over 76 and will get to play in the morning on Friday.
“Everyone says, ‘Go out there and enjoy it, no pressure,’” Hoffman said. “But I felt like I was going to throw up this morning. It went really well considering it was my first tournament.”
Other local players in the field included Grosse Pointe’s Samantha Troyanovich, who shot 5-over 77, and Kris Tamulis, a native of Lapeer that carded a 3-over 75.