Ariya Jutanugarn bookends LPGA's Kingsmill Championship with birdie bursts

WILLIAMSBURG — She started strong and finished strong. Still a teenager, Ariya Jutanugarn has time to work on everything in between.

Jutanugarn, 17, turned in a blistering back nine in Sunday's final round of the LPGA's Kingsmill Championship to tie for third at 10-under par. Too young to hold an LPGA Tour card, she has finished fourth or better in the four LPGA events she has played this season — all reached through qualifying or sponsor invitations.

If she were eligible, her winnings this year — more than $400,000 — would put her fifth on the tour money list.

She carded a 30 on the final nine holes Sunday, including four consecutive birdies on Nos. 13-16. The stretch was reminiscent of her first nine holes of the tournament, when she birdied six of the first seven holes.

"Normally I want to make a score on the front nine. When I finished the front nine (at even par), I thought today I was going to play even," Jutanugarn said. "I never play good on the back nine, so it was amazing for me to shoot 5-under on the back nine."

Her combined score for her first nine and last nine holes of the tournament was an 11-under 60, with 11 birdies and no bogeys. In the 54 holes between, she was 1-over with 11 birdies, 10 bogeys and a double bogey.

For Jutanugarn the difference was on the greens. She needed just 24 putts in the first round and 26 in the final round, but 34 and 31 in the second and third rounds. She turned to her sister, a rookie on the tour, for advice.

"My putting was so bad yesterday, so she tried to help me," Jutanugarn said of Moriya, who finished tied for 39th at 3-over par.

At the start of Sunday's round, it appeared Jutanugarn would be on the periphery of contention. She trailed leader — and eventual winner — Cristie Kerr by five strokes and was still at even par for the round through 10 holes.

After a birdie at No. 11, she started her scoring spree in earnest with a chip-in on the par-3 13th. She drained a 15-foot putt for birdie on No. 14, then chipped close and tapped in on No. 15. She bombed her drive 292 yards on No. 16 then used a wedge to set up her birdie putt from about 10 feet.

Sitting at 10-under and just one shot off the lead, Jutanugarn faced her nemesis. In the first three rounds, she shot a combined 4-over par on the par-3 17th.

"I was never nervous except on the 17th hole because I never had par (on the hole)," she said. Her tee shot came up 20 feet short of the flag, but she lagged her first putt close and made par. She also made par on No. 18 to close out her final round 66.

Top-ranked Inbee Park, Jutanugarn's playing partner Sunday, was impressed.

"You know, she doesn't think about it that much and just bombs it 50 yards past me," Park said. "She's playing really easy out there.

"She can definitely compete out here with us."

Jutanugarn will continue her LPGA quest, sans tour card, in south Alabama in less than two weeks. She plans to play the qualifying round for the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic, which begins May 16.

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