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Thai teen sizzles in opening round of Lotte in Hawaii

The SportsXchange

KAPOLEI, HAWAII -- After earning a last-chance spot at the local qualifying tournament Sunday at Ko Olina Golf Club with birdies on four of the final six holes, Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn proved that the round of 68 was no fluke.

The 17-year-old Jutanugarn put together the day's top round, including a near flawless front nine that featured six birdies, and finished with a tournament record-tying 8-under 64 to notch the lead in Wednesday's opening round of the LPGA Lotte Championship at Ko Olina in Kapolei along Oahu's west coast.

Ten-year tour veteran Suzann Pettersen and 2011 Rookie of the Year Hee Kyung Seo stand one shot off the lead at 7-under, while 17-year-old Hyo Joo Kim and American Danielle Kang finished tied for fourth at 6-under.

While Jutanugarn appeared to regress after her hot start with a bogey on No. 10, she bounced back on the par-5 14th hole by draining an eagle putt to pull even with Pettersen for the tournament lead at 7-under.

Jutanugarn, who is a rookie on the Ladies European Tour, benefited from her ability to consistently drive the ball 300-plus yards on the longer holes, putting her within an iron of the green with regularity.

She was able to get on the green on the par-4 15th in two shots and sank the ensuing putt to take sole possession of the lead for the first time on Wednesday.

Jutanugarn finished her round with three consecutive pars to maintain her one-stroke advantage.

Pettersen notched nine birdies in her first-round effort, and credited a new pair of Nike shoes -- the women's model of the kicks Tiger Woods wears -- as she carded a 65.

She used an aggressive putting stroke to manage the slow-playing greens, and birdied four of the first six holes to start the day on the back nine. Pettersen, ranked No. 6 player in the world, required just 25 putts throughout the round and hit 14 greens in regulation.

Seo played bogey-free golf, turning in seven birdies en route to her second-place standing.

Players in the field of 144 golfers are competing for a share of the event's $1.7 million prize purse, which includes a $225,000 winner's check.

Following a week of rain and vog (a mixture of haze and volcanic ash that hovers in the atmosphere) that blanketed the island, the weather reverted to mostly clear, sunny conditions with easterly "trade wind" breezes that serve as natural air conditioning along Oahu's arid western shoreline.

Notes: Amateur Lydia Ko of Australia remains the youngest winner in LPGA history after claiming the 2012 CN Canadian Women's Open in Vancouver at age 15. Ko, the youngest player in the field this week, carded an opening-round 1-under 71 Wednesday. ... Michelle Wie attracted one of the event's largest galleries as the hometown product and recent Stanford University grad returned to Hawaii. The 23-year-old utilized an unorthodox putting style dubbed "table top," during which her legs and arched back form a 90-degree angle with her head directly over the ball. However, she struggled to find a rhythm, and finished at 2-under. ... Players, caddies and staff donned red ribbons in remembrance of the victims of Monday's Boston Marathon tragedy.
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