Ariya Jutanugarn leads LPGA's Kingsmill Championship by 2 strokes

Ariya Jutanugarn, a 17-year-old playing on a sponsor's exemption, shot a 64 opening round in the LPGA Kingsmill Championship.

WILLIAMSBURG — It's a strange way for Ariya Jutanugarn, the first-round leader of the Kingsmill Championship, to up her playing schedule this year.

On the Ladies European Tour, the 17 year old has her playing card after winning that tour's qualifying school last December. She can enter any tournament she wants.

On the LPGA Tour, though, Jutanugarn has to survive on sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifying rounds. She was too young, the LPGA said in denying her petition to take part in the Q School last year, to earn her card.

On Thursday, playing under a sponsor's exemption as the rain and gloom finally cleared out of Kingsmill, Jutanugarn shot a 7-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead over two-time Kingsmill champ Cristie Kerr. Jutanugarn is three strokes ahead of So Yeon Ryu and Dewi Claire Schreefel.

Inbee Park, the No. 1 player in the world rankings, won the first of her three LPGA victories this year at the Honda LPGA Thailand tournament when Jutanugarn made triple bogey on the final hole. A bogey would have meant victory.

"I'm very happy she's playing really good, especially after that finish on No. 18. It's always good to see somebody bouncing back like that," Park said.

Park is one of 15 players who shot 3-under 68s. That group includes world No. 2 Stacy Lewis, 2007 Kingsmill champion Suzann Pettersen and Katie Burnett, the other sponsor's exemption.

Half the field of 144 finished their rounds at or under par (71).

"The course is wet and I think that's why scores are low," said Lewis. "They would actually be lower if the ball was releasing out a little bit."

Jutanugarn cruised through her first 16 holes Thursday with eight birdies, including six of her first seven holes. But on the par-3 17th, a tough hole along the James River, she missed to the left, then had a bad third shot for a double bogey.

She made up for it at 18 with a birdie.

"I know like 18 is not a long par 4, I can make birdie on that hole," she said.

Tell that to Jiyai Shin and Paula Creamer, who played the hole eight times during last year's historic playoff with exactly zero birdies.

Creamer finished Thursday at 2-under. Shin was 1-under.

Jutanugarn's double bogey finished her chances of tying the course tournament record of 62 that Shin shot in last year's first round.

Jutanugarn's first two LPGA tournaments this year were played under sponsor's exemptions in Thailand and Singapore, where she finished second and fourth, respectively. At the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii, she qualified on Monday, then finished third.

Last week she tried to qualify for the North Texas LPGA shootout, but missed by a stroke. She came to Kingsmill early and played practice rounds Saturday and Sunday.

In Europe, she won the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco, finished second in the Ladies Masters in Australia, and had finishes of 12th and 25th in her other two tournaments. She leads the European Tour's money list with $83,083.65.

Even if she wins at Kingsmill, Jutanugarn will have to go through the Monday qualifying or have a sponsor's exemption to enter LPGA tournaments this season.

Kerr birdied 17 and 18, and had four birdies on the back nine.

"Momentum's always the thing that you want to try and have," said Kerr. "You try and carry over the play from today into tomorrow as best you can."

Schreefel, whose best finish last year was 13th in the Kingsmill Championship, got to 4-under, bogeyed No. 4, her 13th hole, then birdied No. 8.

She had birdies on three of the four par-3 holes.

"Greens in regulation is one of my stronger points, so I tend to kind of attach the pins there if I think the situation is suitable," Schreefel said.

The format for Thursday and Fridays is to split the field in half, with 72 playing in the morning and the other 72 in the afternoon on Thursday. On Friday they reverse, then the field is cut to the low 70 and ties for the final two rounds.

Suffolk's Lauren Doughtie finished with a 6-over 77. She had an eagle on No. 7, but seven bogeys and a double bogey did her in.