A firm, fast and bouncy New Tanjong Course proved to be a tough test for the players in the first round on Thursday, but Minjee Lee and Ariya Jutanugarn rose to that challenge in the final grouping of the day. Rolex Rankings No. 3 Lee and No. 1 Jutanugarn, paired with second-ranked Sung Hyun Park in a heavyweight trio, matched one another by carding four-under 68s to end a sweltering afternoon in Singapore in a five-way share of the lead.
"The course is actually playing pretty tough," said the in-form Lee, who finished second at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Sunday. "It's bouncy and I have a couple of longer clubs into some of the holes. It is playing a little longer for me. So I just keep hitting fairways and try and get a little bit more length off the tee and I have a good short game. I'm striking it pretty solid and my putting is pretty solid, too. So I'm hoping to take that momentum into the next three days."
Despite the tough conditions, the long-hitting Jutanugarn delivered a sparkling display of golf from tee to green as she carded two birdies on each nine without making a single blemish.
"Actually I played pretty good," said the Thai, a 10-time winner on the LPGA Tour. "I hit tee shots pretty good and my irons were good. I missed lots of putts but also make a few putts. But it's really tough because the greens are really firm. It's so tough to hit it like close to the pin."
SPECIAL MEMORIES AT HSBC WOMEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FOR YOUNG YU LIU
Yu Liu is making a brilliant name for herself as a second-year LPGA Tour player. As a rookie, Liu finished in the top 10 three times with a career-best finish of third at the 2018 Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic. After the first round on Thursday, Liu holds a share of the lead with several top-ranked players in the world.
In fact, it was at this tournament 10 years ago, where Liu had her first glimpse of what would become her dream job—to be a professional golfer on the LPGA Tour.
“Ten years ago, I got this opportunity playing as a junior golfer with two other girls from China to come play in the Pro-Am,” said Liu who came through the HSBC Junior Programme, a program geared toward providing young golfers with opportunities in the game. “I just had a blast and that really set my goals, my career goals, because before that, I didn't really know what to expect playing golf. But afterwards, I just felt like this is really something that I wanted to achieve. Just from then on, I've been working pretty hard.”
Back then, Liu played a par-3 hole with some of the biggest names in the female game—former world number ones Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng and with that memorable experience as a youngster, Liu is making strides in growing the game for young children in China.
AMY OLSON MAKES LATE MOVE TO TIE FOR THE LEAD
Amy Olson, the 26-year-old from North Dakota, carded a first-round 4-under-par 68 to finish on top of the leaderboard. Olson was 2-under after 16 holes before making a late move with an eagle on No. 8, her second-to-last hole of the day.
“Yeah, you know, it's not a long par 5 but it's a very challenging approach shot from that far. You can't be short because you'll be in the hazard, and then it's a really tough bunker shot for that pin if you go over the green,” said Olson who will tee off in the final group on Friday with Celine Boutier and Yu Liu. “I did have a perfect club. I hit a really nice, high shot, so it would come in soft and it just ended up being perfect.”
FLURRY OF BIRDIES ON HER BACK NINE PROPELS BOUTIER INTO A TIE AT THE TOP
Course knowledge isn't always a major advantage, and Celine Boutier proved that in impressive fashion on Thursday as she surged into a five-way tie for the lead with a birdie blitz on her back nine. The 25-year-old Frenchwoman, who had never seen the New Tanjong Course at Sentosa Golf Club until this week, reeled off five birdies in eight holes to shoot a four-under 68 in the opening round.
"I started pretty slow, I was 1-over on the back and then I had a birdie on No. 1, which was my No. 10, so that kind of got me going," said Boutier, who claimed her first LPGA Tour victory earlier this month at the ISPS Handa Vic Open. "Then I played really well on the front. I was just able to hit it closer because on my front, it was like a little too far so I didn't have that many like close birdie opportunities. But I was able to change it on the front, so that was good."
Boutier liked the look of the New Tanjong Course the minute she first saw the venue in a practice round. "I was kind of happy when I played it because I could see myself playing well on this course," she grinned. "I kind of like the layout and just the way you have to play it."
GERINA PILLER RETURNS TO COMPETITION AFTER MATERNITY LEAVE
This week in Singapore marks Gerina Piller’s first start in competition since she became a first-time mom last April. Piller gave birth to AJ, who is now 10 months old, and took maternity leave for the 2018 season.
“Today was definitely a struggle. Not the start I would hope for. It was hard,” said Piller who carded a first-round 3-over-par 75. “I think just leaving my son for the first time, and so I didn't know how that was going to go over. Just getting back in the competitive vibe has definitely been foreign. But you know, I hit some good shots out there and glad to be back and hopefully continue what I did on the back nine tomorrow.”
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn (1, -4)
- Jutanugarn is making her fifth HSBC Women’s World Championship appearance; her best finish was in 2017 with a 2nd place finish
- This week, Jutanugarn is making her fourth start on the 2019 season—her previous finishes were T18 (Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions), 41st (ISPS Handa Australian Open) and 14th (Honda LPGA Thailand)
- Jutanugarn carded a bogey-free first round of 4-under-par 68, hitting 13 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens
- This is the first time Jutanugarn is in the lead or holds a share of the lead after the first round at the HSBC Women’s World Championship; second place was her best finish, which she held after every round in 2017
- Jutanugarn is a 10-time LPGA Tour winner, two of which are majors (2018 U.S. Women’s Open and 2016 Ricoh Women’s British Open)
Rolex Rankings No. 3 Minjee Lee (T1, -4)
- Lee jumped four spots on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings to No. 3 after last week’s runner-up finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand
- Lee made an eagle, five birdies and three bogeys on her round, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens
- Lee is making her fifth HSBC Women’s World Championship appearance; her best finish was T6 in 2018
- Lee is making her fourth start of the 2019 season; she missed the cut at the ISPS Handa Vic Open and finished T15 at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and had a runner-up finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand
- Lee is a four-time winner on the LPGA Tour; her last win was the 2018 LPGA Volvik Championship
Rolex Rankings No. 90 Celine Boutier (T1, -4)
- Boutier is making her first HSBC Women’s World Championship appearance; her fourth start of the 2019 season with a win at the ISPS Handa Vic Open
- Boutier made five birdies and a bogey for a 4-under 68, hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens
- Boutier became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2018 ISPS Handa Vic Open by two strokes
- Boutier was a rookie in 2017 on the LPGA Tour; she was one of three members of the 2017 Symetra Tour graduating class to exceed $100,000 in single-season earnings
- Boutier was a two-time All-American and 2013-14 National Player of the Year at Duke University and helped lead the Blue Devils to the 2014 NCAA Championship
Rolex Rankings No. 72 Yu Liu (T1, -4)
- Liu is making her first HSBC Women’s World Championship appearance; her fourth start of the 2019 season with a T10 finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand
- Liu made six birdies and two bogeys for a 4-under-par 68, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens
- Liu was a LPGA Tour rookie in 2017; she finished fifth on the 2017 Volvik Race for the Card Symetra Tour money list to earn LPGA Tour status
- Liu’s career-best finish was third place at the 2018 Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic
- While attending Duke University, Liu earned second-team All-American honors and was a member of the team that won its sixth national championship
Rolex Rankings No. 41 Amy Olson (T1, -4)
- Olson is making her first HSBC Women’s World Championship appearance; her third start of the 2019 season with a T10 finish at the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open
- Olson made four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys for a 4-under-par 68; hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens
- Olson, 26, is from Oxbow, North Dakota and attended North Dakota State University where she broke the NCAA record for most career victories with 20 wins
- Olson’s career-best finish is T2 at the 2018 The Evian Championship
- Olson graduated from North Dakota State University in 2013 with a degree in Accounting
- 21 players in the top 20 represent 10 different countries (USA, Republic of Korea, Australia, France, Chinese Taipei, Spain, England, China, Japan and Thailand)
- Three players withdrew from competition in Round 1: Amy Yang on Hole No. 3 due to illness; defending champion Michelle Wie on Hole 15 due to wrist injury and Sei Young Kim on Hole 13 due to back injury