Tavatanakit and Thitikul lead home LPGA Thailand by 1

PATTAYA, Thailand (AP) — Local stars Patty Tavatanakit and Atthaya Thitikul carded 8-under 64s to share a stroke lead after the first round of the LPGA Thailand on Thursday.

Tavatanakit, who became Thailand’s new leading female golfer following her breakthrough win at the ANA Inspiration last month, shot nine birdies against a lone bogey on the sixth hole in drizzle conditions.

Despite no spectators because of the pandemic, Tavatanakit was playing under high home expectations. A Thai has never won this U.S. LPGA Tour event. She kept her cool and led alongside teenage prodigy Thitikul at Siam Country Club.

“I left myself in really good positions on the green,” Tavatanakit said. “I made some mistakes here and there, but I was able to recover and just walk away from the hole with a lot of pars when it wasn’t birdie.”

Coming off a tie for third in Singapore last weekend, Tavatanakit has replaced former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn as Thailand’s highest-ranked woman at 12th.

“It’s always been my dream to just be in the mix of really good players. But I don’t want to compare myself to anyone,” she said. “I just want to stick to my own goals and don’t really care who’s ahead of me or if I’m behind anyone.”

The 18-year-old Thitikul highlighted her round with eagles on the 10th and 18th holes, five birdies, and a bogey on the 14th.

“I had an amazing round,” she said.

Thitikul has met home expectations previously. She became the youngest known winner of a professional tournament when she was 14 in 2017 at the Thailand Championship, and became the youngest to win two Ladies European Tour events when she won the Thailand Championship again in 2019 at 16.

Thitikul turned professional last year and ended up 2020 as the No. 1 on the Thai LPGA Tour. The LPGA Thailand is her final tune-up before she joins the LET.

“I love to learn from the good players before I go overseas. I always learn from every tournament I play,” she said.

A stroke behind on 65 in a tie for third were Jutanugarn, who carded eight birdies and a bogey, and Nanna Koerstz Madsen of Denmark, who enjoyed an error-free round.

Defending champion Amy Yang of South Korea, who has won this tournament three times, opened with a 69.

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