Thailand's Pajaree storms to top of crowded LPGA leaderboard in Arizona

By AFP   March 28, 2024 | 07:05 pm PT
Thailand's Pajaree Anannarukarn birdied her last five holes in a nine-under par 63 on Thursday to break free atop a log-jammed leaderboard after the first round of the LPGA Ford Championship in Gilbert, Arizona.

With five players in the clubhouse on eight-under, Pajaree rolled in a birdie putt at her final hole, the ninth to seize a one-shot lead over world number two Lilia Vu of the United States, Spaniards Carlota Ciganda and Azahara Munoz, Germany's Isi Gabsa and Australian Gabriela Ruffels.

"It was a great day out there," said Pajaree, who claimed the most recent of her two LPGA titles at last year's LPGA Match-Play. "I actually was in the zone. I didn't realize that I holed my fifth birdie in a row on the ninth green. But it was a great day."

Pajaree, who matched her career low round on the LPGA tour, said she knew she had the makings of a good round after her third birdie of the day at the 18th.

"Bogey-free, came out with three-under par going into the back nine. I played some really good shots today," she said. "Hit a lot of good drivers off the tee and gave me a lot of benefit just going into the green with short irons.

"I was able to just hit some good long irons in as well, so that helped," she added.

Thailands Pajaree Anannarukarn kisses her LPGA Match Play Cup in Las Vegas on March 28, 2023. Photo by LPGA Match Play

Thailand's Pajaree Anannarukarn kisses her LPGA Match Play Cup in Las Vegas on March 28, 2023. Photo by LPGA Match Play

Vu, who withdrew from two tournaments on the LPGA's recent Asian swing with back trouble, was delighted to find herself in contention.

"Today, honestly, my only goal was to hit the ball solid," she said. "It's been rough the past couple weeks with how my body is doing and just struggling with a back injury.

"But I'm almost 100 percent, so it was really fun to play without pain today and focus on where I wanted to hit the ball instead of bracing for pain."

Vu had nine birdies with one bogey, joining the group on eight under with a birdie at the 18th.

"I was really excited to pull off shots that I saw in my head," Vu said. "It's been a while since I've been able to hit a shot that I see, so I think it was super fun to be like, OK, I can hit a nice little draw here. Ends up maybe like 10, 15 feet, and go and try and make it."

Ciganda and Gabsa both had eight birdies without a bogey, while Ruffels and Munoz each had an eagle on the way to 64 at the Seville Golf and Country Club.

French star Celine Boutier, who won the LPGA's most recent event in Arizona when she won at Superstition Mountain last year, was two off the lead on 65, where she was joined by South Korean Kim Hyo-joo.

Another 11 players were a further stroke back on 66. That group included American Nelly Korda, who supplanted Vu as number one in the world with her victory in the Seri Pak Championship on Sunday -- Korda's second victory in as many starts this season.

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