Ariya Jutanugarn Shows She’s Regaining Her Top Form in Building three-shot Lead at CP Women’s Open
PRIDDIS, Alta. — Ariya Jutanugarn is walking with a bit of a limp and sporting stripes of medical tape on her left knee.
She didn’t even bother bagging a driver this week.
And she admits the tree-lined fairways on the Raven Course at Priddis Greens — site of the 2016 Canadian Pacific Women’s Open — are a little narrow for her liking.
Sounds like a recipe for … a three-stroke lead.
Yep, you read that right. Jutanugarn, who is recovering from a knee injury that forced her to withdraw during the third round of the 2016 Rio Olympics, would like a bit more space to bomb away and figured she’d be better off without her big stick this week, is turning Priddis Greens into her own personal playground.
The 20-year-old from Thailand erased the women’s course record with an 8-under 64 in her second spin.
At the midway mark of the four-day, US$2.25 million shootout, Jutanugarn has already trimmed a dozen strokes off par. She has a three-shot cushion on her closest competitors, with South Korea’s In Gee Chun and Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow splitting second at 9-under.
The logjam of five golfers at 8-under is headlined by New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, the 19-year-old superstar who is already a three-time champion of the CP Women’s Open.
Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Sherbrooke, Que., and Hamilton’s Alena Sharp are tops among Canadians at 6-under, a couple of shots better than marquee attraction Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont.
“Honestly, I don’t think it suits my game because it’s a little narrow and I can’t hit my driver,” Jutanugarn said of the 6,622-yard tournament track just west of Calgary. “But right now, I feel more confident because I can hit my irons in the fairway and my three-wood in the fairway.
“Some weeks, I use my driver if it’s wide enough and if I need the distance. But this week, I don’t need that.”
Jutanugarn completed four assignments — par, par, par, bogey — in Friday’s early-morning restart, signing for a 4-under 68 in the weather-delayed opening round.
She really started to warm up after a quick break, mixing eight birds and 10 pars in a bogey-free and mostly stress-free second round.
Through two days at Priddis Greens, Jutanugran has missed only two fairways. Even without a driver at her disposal, she’s averaging 280 yards off the tee.
“I feel good, but honestly, I don’t really care about who is leading,” Jutanugarn said. “I just feel like I really want to have fun and be happy on the course.”
Sure, easy for the leader to say.
Jutanugarn is currently running second in the women’s world rankings — Ko has a firm grip on top spot — and has collected four LPGA Tour trophies so far this season, proof that she’s having her fair share of fun on the golf course.
For the chase pack at the 2016 Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, the most worrisome news is Jutanugarn’s left knee is “getting a lot better” and she’s starting to feel more and more comfortable at this particular track.
“Yeah, I feel better,” she said. “I have more confidence to just stick with my game.”
Ko will stick with her game, too, a no-brainer when you’ve been collecting LPGA Tour triumphs at record clip — she already owns 14 titles on the top circuit — and just added an Olympic silver medal to your resume.
“I don’t think I’ll change my game plan,” Ko said. “Ariya and I have such different games. You know, she hits the ball a mile, and I’m just an average tour-length player.
“I can’t change what I’m going to do and my tactics because there is a player that is going to hit the ball a long way. The rough is really thick and, at the end of the day, you just need to keep it on the fairways and give yourself good opportunities.”