An exciting Round 1 on Thursday at Pine Needles saw an amateur rewrite the record book in the morning, only to be topped by a tour veteran in the afternoon wave.
Here are 10 Stats to Know from Day 1 of the U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica:
1. Mina Harigae made a field-best nine birdies on her way to a 7-under-par 64, tying the second-lowest round ever recorded in U.S. Women’s Open history. In 36 previous rounds in the U.S. Women’s Open, she had never shot in the 60s, and had a combined score to par of plus-127. Harigae does not have a top-10 finish on the LPGA Tour this season, and has never finished in the top 10 at a major championship. All that could change, though, after her red-hot afternoon at Pine Needles.
Harigae was excellent on the greens, especially from 10 to 20 feet away, where she made six of eight attempts. Harigae led the field in Round 1 in putts per green in regulation (1.43) and ranked second in the field in strokes-gained putting (+4.92).
2. Ingrid Lindblad, the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world and reigning SEC Player of the Year, stole the show in the early wave. Playing alongside legend and fellow Swede Annika Sorenstam, Lindblad not only shot the lowest round by an amateur in this championship’s storied history (65), she recorded a score lower than Sorenstam has ever had in this event. Lindblad’s sparkling 65 is the second-lowest round ever recorded by a European player in the U.S. Women’s Open, trailing only Helen Alfredsson’s record 63 in 1994. Lindblad ranked 6th in the field in strokes-gained approach and 4th in strokes-gained putting on Day 1.
This was just the third time in U.S. Women’s Open history that there were multiple scores of 65 or lower shot in the same round. The previous two instances each came in 1999 – in Round 1 (Kelli Kuehne and Juli Inkster) and Round 2 (Lorie Kane and Becky Iverson). That week, Inkster went on to win with a score of 16 under, the lowest in U.S. Women’s Open history.
3. Anna Nordqvist shot 67, tying her lowest career score in 43 U.S. Women’s Open rounds. Her low start puts personal history on her side: this is the third time in her career she has opened a major with a round of 67 or better. The previous two times she did it, she went on to win. Nordqvist missed only one fairway in Round 1 and played the back nine in 5 under par. The three-time major champion’s best career result in this championship came six years ago, when she lost a playoff to Brittany Lang.
4. Minjee Lee also opened with 67, tying her lowest career first-round score at this championship. Lee, who leads the LPGA this season in several strokes-gained and proximity-to-the-hole statistics, flashed her precise iron play again on Thursday. Lee hit 15 greens in regulation, and her 4.12 strokes-gained approach ranked second-best on Day 1.
Lee is trying to become just the third Australian player to win the U.S. Women’s Open, and the first since Karrie Webb did it in 2001. Webb’s win that year – her second in a row – came here at Pine Needles.
5. One year after heartbreak at The Olympic Club, Lexi Thompson put herself into contention again at a U.S. Women’s Open with an opening-round 68. Thompson now has 16 rounds better than par at this championship since 2010. In that stretch, only two players have recorded more. Thompson was outstanding tee-to-green on Day 1, hitting 13 of 14 fairways, 15 greens in regulation and gaining 2.63 strokes with her approach play (ranked 9th-best in the field).
Could this be the week for Lexi? She has five top-10 finishes at the U.S. Women’s Open in her career, but has yet to break through with a win. In the last 30 years, only two players have had more top 10s without a victory: Amy Yang (seven) and Tammie Green (six).
6. It’s been more than 5,000 days since her previous U.S. Women’s Open start, and a large portion of the field is less than half her age, but Annika Sorenstam did nothing to suggest she didn’t belong on Thursday at Pine Needles. Sorenstam shot an opening-round 74, carding five bogeys and a pair of birdies along the way. The reigning U.S. Senior Women’s Open champion missed only two fairways and five greens in her round. Sorenstam will have work to do to see the weekend: she is currently given just a 12.5 percent chance to make the cut based on mathematical projections at USGA.org.
7. There’s a reason why no player has successfully defended her U.S. Women’s Open title in more than 20 years: it’s really, really difficult to do. Yuka Saso can attest to that after an opening-round 77. She’s not alone, though, in recent defending champs stumbling out of the gates in their title defense: none of the previous nine defending champions have broken par in Round 1. Those nine women have combined to shoot 30 over par and card a scoring average of 74.4.
8. World No. 1 Jin Young Ko had a strong performance, carding a 2-under-par 69. Ko, who gained more than four full strokes over the field on Day 1, has never finished outside the top 20 in five previous U.S. Women’s Open starts. For her career, she has averaged 2.68 strokes gained total per round in this championship. Over the last 30 years, that is the best average for any player with 20 or more rounds who has never won it.
9. The early side of the draw had a bit more success than their counterparts on Day 1: 19 of the 27 players to shoot under par came from the first half of groupings. Overall, the difference was about two-thirds of a stroke – 73.15 for the early wave, 73.82 for the afternoon.
The 17th hole played as the most difficult on the course, with just seven birdies being made all day. The most difficult green to hit in regulation was the par-four 2nd hole, where just 40 percent of the field managed to find the putting surface in two shots.
10. While nobody can win the U.S. Women’s Open in Round 1, you can certainly play yourself out of contention. Eight of the previous 10 champions were tied for eighth place or better after Round 1. Maybe even more telling: 26 of the last 30 winners of this championship were at or within five of the lead at the end of the opening round. Since 2013, the Round 1 scoring average of U.S. Women’s Open champions is a stout 68.7.
Justin Ray is the head of content for Twenty First Group. He has also worked as a senior researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel.