WOBURN – For the second time in 2016, Mirim Lee holds the first round lead in a major championship.
Lee carded a 10-under par, 62 on Thursday at Woburn Golf Club to set the course record and card the lowest opening round in the history of the RICOH Women’s British Open. Lee holds a three-stroke lead ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn in solo second at seven-under par and Shanshan Feng in third at six-under par.
“When you normally think of British Open, you think of high roughs, difficult roughs. But here it feels more like California, so I think that really made me feel comfortable,” Lee told the media through an interpreter.
Lee opened with an eight-under par, 64 at the U.S. Women’s Open to take a three-stroke lead and finished one-stroke shy of setting a new record at the championship as well. She finished T-11 for the week. In her next start at the Marathon Classic, she lost in a three-way playoff with Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn to finish in a share of second.
The world No.26 has her left wrist and thumb wrapped as a precaution after previously suffering an injury to the area, which forced her to miss this championship in 2015 at Turnberry. This week marks just her second start in this event, having missed the cut in 2014.
“There's no pain. I'm just using it to prevent getting injured. It's just from hitting too many balls and practicing too much, and the tendons got weak, so it's kind of accumulated,” said Lee. “So I'm just trying to prevent any further injury.”
The round matches her lowest on the LPGA Tour, which she previously shot in the second round of the 2014 Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship. Lee carded a personal best 61 during the third round of the final stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament in 2013 to finish second and earn her card for 2014.
Three-back of Lee sits Ariya Jutanugarn, who took the lead early on day one by posting a bogey-free, seven-under par 65 for her lowest round in this championship. She took advantage of the tree-lined venue, which is quite different from the traditional links style course that typically challenges players in this major championship.
“I love this course. To me, I think it really feeds on my game. I like this course so much,” the three-time winner told the media. “To me it’s not really too narrow and I don’t have to hit my driver, so it’s like to me, it’s pretty like not too long.”
Jutanugarn is one of the longest hitters on Tour and has taken driver out of her bag in recent Tournaments where she found herself hitting through the fairway. This week was no exception, swapping out the big stick for a two-iron.
“Actually, I feel like really comfortable with my two-iron, because I feel like I can hit it hard and I can do whatever I want to do,” said Jutanugarn. “I can hit draw. I can hit fade.”
Jutanugarn became a first time winner in the month of May, sweeping the Tour’s three events for her first three wins on the LPGA Tour. She’s contended in the majors as well where she finished fourth at the ANA Inspiration, third at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and T-17 at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“It’s really important for me because like my goal right now, I mean even one time in my life, I really want to win a major,” Jutanugarn said.
Click here to watch Jutanugarn’s post-round interview.
After nearly missing her tee time on Thursday, Shanshan Feng posted a bogey-free, six-under par, 66. Feng didn’t account for the amount of time required for getting around the golf course at Woburn and ran to the first tee to arrive just as her group was being announced. Feng has quietly posted four top-10’s so far in 2016. Her best finish at the RICOH Women’s British Open came in a share of second in 2014 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club.
Mi Hyang Lee and Stacy Lewis sit in a share of fourth after day one, opening with five-under par, 67’s to sit five-strokes back of the lead. Lewis played alongside Jutanugarn on day one and said seeing her playing partner go low helped give her a boost as well.
“Well, I’m very excited with it. Played really solid,” Lewis told the media. “Didn’t make any bogeys. It was great playing with Ariya. She was on fire early, which told me I needed to be aggressive and keep up and started making birdies and posted a really good number.
The 2013 RICOH Women’s British Open Champion captured her title at St. Andrews, which is quite different from the layout challenging players this week at Woburn, and Lewis says she misses the traditional layout.
“Well, it just doesn’t feel like a British Open at all. It’s more like, I’d say, a Canadian Open than a British Open. It’s just different,” said Lewis. “I would prefer the links because I love the links style golf. I look forward to this championship every year just because of the style of golf. But that’s not to say you can’t win on this, too.”
Lewis got a boost heading into this week’s championship thanks to her victory as part of Team U.S.A. at the UL International Crown in Chicago last week. The world No.8 is in search of her first win since June of 2014 and hasn’t finished worse than seventh in her last three starts on Tour.