It certainly didn’t start off promising for Moriya Jutanugarn, who found herself four over through her first five holes at Wilshire Country Club, site of her break-through win on the LPGA in 2018.
And then something flipped.
Jutanugarn birdied the next six consecutive holes. In fact, she birdied 10 of her last 13 to rebound with a 6-under 65 and lead the field at the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open.
“I mean, I don’t realize until I sign the scorecard I shot 29 on the backside today,” said Jutnaugarn. “It was pretty fun.”
Austin Ernst and Nelly Korda, two winners in 2021, are tied for second 5 under. Korda, who missed the cut in her previous two starts at Wilshire, holed out for eagle on the 16th hole (her front side) with a pitching wedge to give her round an early boost.
“I hit some really close,” said Korda, who finished in a share of second last week in Hawaii. “On 11 I hit it to tap-in range. It’s definitely nice when you have those tap-ins out here. … when you do make a par, the key is to hit your first putt close, not leave yourself the longer putt.
“I kind of learned that hopefully over the past two, three years, and I can take that into the next three days.”
Hugel-Air Premia LA Open: Leaderboard
World No. 1 Jin Young Ko headlines a group at 4 under that includes recent major winners Sei Young Kim and A Lim Kim.
Inbee Park opened with a 68. Three years ago, Park reclaimed the No. 1 ranking for the fourth time in her career with a share of second at Wilshire.
“The greens are just really tricky,” said Park. “I mean, like some putts are really quick, some really slow. It’s very slopey, so just don’t know which way it’s going to break, how much it’s going to break. It’s very tough.
“I think nobody is going to really have a great putting week this week. I mean, it’s poana greens and it’s quite quick on the downhill putts, so I think we just got to watch out for the speed of the putts and try to hit it close as you can.”
Nelly Korda tees off at the 14th hole during the first round of the LPGA’s 2021 Hugel-Air Premia LA Open tournament at Wilshire Country Club. (Photo: Ashley Landis/Associated Press)
When Moriya won the LA Open in 2018, her sister Ariya’s emotional reaction was the most memorable part of the finish. With Koreatown only a few blocks away from the city club, Asian fans came out in droves to watch Sunday’s finale.
Ariya broke down sobbing after Moriya clinched her first title, showing more emotion for her older sister’s success than any of her own previous victories, including her first major.
“It’s amazing,” Ariya said in the moment three years ago. “I mean, to me, I feel like not only did she reach her goal, but I feel like our family reached our goal.”
Needless to say, Moriya loves coming back to Los Angeles. She enjoys the weather, the food and the challenge of Wilshire. Ariya opened this week’s event with a 71.
“You just have to put yourself into good position to play and sometimes just to make a two-putt,” she said.
“I just like happened to be make a little bit more putts today.”