Just 24 hours after receiving a sponsor's invitation into the Women's PGA Championship, young Australian Gabriela Ruffels has fired an opening 67 to be two behind the leaders at the LPGA Meijer Classic.
Still on a high after getting into next week's major field at Atlanta Athletic Club – the only major in which she is yet to compete at – the 21-year-old is tied seventh with compatriot Su Oh after a fine five-under score.
Ruffels, who only made her debut as a professional on the LPGA Tour in February, has been in great form.
She has had several finishes in the top 20, tying for 15th at the 2020 ANA Inspiration and 19th at this year's edition. She also tied for 13th in the 2020 US Women's Open.
The 2019 US Women's Amateur championship winner made eight birdies to go with two bogies.
Oh made six birdies with a lone bogey on the 7th to equal Ruffels' score at Blythefield Country Club.
They are both chasing Nasa Hataoka, who holds a share of the lead in her first event since losing a playoff in the US Women's Open.
"This course, usually everyone hits low scores, so it's really important for me to play four good rounds." – Nasa Hataoka
The 22-year-old Japanese player birdied three of the last five holes to match fellow morning starters Leona Maguire, Charley Hull and Lauren Stephenson at seven-under 65.
"This course, usually everyone hits low scores, so it's really important for me to play four good rounds," Hataoka said.
Two weeks ago in the Women's Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco, Hataoka lost to Yuka Saso on the third playoff hole.
The three-time LPGA Tour winner was bogey-free Thursday, birdieing four holes in a five-hole stretch on the front nine and adding birdies on the par-5 14th, par-4 16th and par-5 18th.
"Especially my iron game, I was feeling really good." Hataoka said. "I was hitting the pin a lot of times, so I feel like my iron game helped my game today a lot."
Hull played the last five holes in five under with long eagle putts on the 14th and 18th and a birdie on 16.
Maguire also had a bogey-free round. The Irish player tied for ninth last week in the LPGA Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced.
Stephenson played her opening nine – the back nine at Blythefield – in six-under 30.
"On the first nine it felt like my ball had like a magnet to the hole," Stephenson said. "It was like I couldn't miss.
Ariya Jutanugarn and Min Lee shot 66, with Anna Nordqvist joining Ruffels, Oh, Alison Lee, Sarah Schmelzel, Amy Olson, Sophia Popov, Chella Choi, Marina Alex, Xiyu Lin and Pajaree Anannarukarn another shot back.
Lexi Thompson, the 2015 winner, was in the large group at 68 that included Inbee Park, sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda and Jennifer Kupcho.
Australians Hannah Green and Katherine Kirk opened with two-under 70s.