Moriya Jutanugarn took a share of the lead in the first round of the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament Wednesday at LPGA International.
Jutanugarn, an 18-year-old from Thailand who was runner up in the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur, shot a 4-under-par 68 on the Legends Course, equaling the low rounds of Kathleen Ekey and Kim Welch, who both played the Champions Course. Ekey was the 2011 Symetra Tour Player of the Year. Welch won Golf Channel’s Big Break: Ka’anapali.
Jutanugarn is half of a talented sister duo. Her younger sister, Ariya, 17, was denied a petition for a waiver to play LPGA Q-School this year. The LPGA requires members to be 18 years old. Ariya was a two-time AJGA Rolex Player of the Year and the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion. She is turning pro and scheduled to play the Ladies European Tour Q-School in two weeks.
Laura Diaz, a two-time LPGA winner, opened with a 70 and sits in a tie for 18th. Japan LPGA Tour standout Chie Arimura, No. 19 in the Rolex World Rankings, is also tied for 18th. Two-time LPGA winner Christina Kim opened with a 72 and sits tied for 25th.
Former U.S. Women’s Open winner Birdie Kim (76) and four-time LET winner Melissa Reid of England (79) got off to sluggish starts. The top 20 following Sunday’s final round will earn Category 12 status on the LPGA next year. Players finishing 21st through 45th and ties will earn Category 17 status.