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Sarah Jane Smith shares US Women's Open lead

Sarah Jane Smith watches her tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round at Shoal Creek. (Photo: USGA/Jeff Haynes)
In 205 starts on the LPGA Tour, Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith has yet to win an event and, although twice runner-up, her start to this week’s US Women’s Open in Alabama sets her up for a potentially life-changing week.

Smith shares the lead after day one with Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn and South Korean Jeongjeun6 Lee after each fired an opening 5 under 67 at Shoal Creek Club in Birmingham.

Smith was even par through 10 holes before an eagle from 87 yards at the par-five 11th kick-started her push towards the lead in the event which was then held by Jutanugarn. She would then birdie the 13th, 14th and 17th holes to move to 5 under.

The leading trio have a one-shot lead over 2014 champion Michelle Wie and Swedish amateur Linn Grant.

Smith, from the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, has battled for much of this season after two of her best years on Tour and tried to put it in perspective after her round.

 “I haven't handled it that well,” said the 33 year old. “It's been a rough month. Obviously putting it in perspective, it's only golf. It hasn't been a lot of fun. I felt like I have been playing okay, haven't been putting well. Making bad decisions and just felt like it's been close and that's been the hard part is not getting a chance to play an extra couple rounds on the weekend.”

For the last two years Smith has been working with Tiger Woods' former coach Sean Foley and the results since re-joining him at the beginning of 2016 have been impressive.

“He's been amazing. I started working with Sean, I worked with him for about four years, a couple of years before he started with Tiger. And then I just -- he was so busy that I wasn't getting to see him, so I saw a couple of other people.

In that time, he's always been a mentor. He always keeps in touch. Sometimes I think he's better for me off the golf course, too. He's basically like a sports psychologist on the side.

“He's been amazing and I think he's helped Duane and I. My husband caddies for me. Sometimes I think he understands that dynamic if we are struggling, he tries to help us figure it out. He's been great.”

Su Oh continued her recent improvement with an opening 70, Minjee Lee is at even par, Katherine Kirk at 1 over, Karrie Webb and Gold Coast amateur Robyn Choi 3 over and Sarah Kemp 5 over.

Jutanugarn’s start is ominous for the rest of the field.

Her recent win at the Kingsmill Championship appears to have gotten things back on track for the former World No. 1.

“I'm going to say my game been improving I feel like every week because I work so hard with my short game," said the Thai golfer. “I feel like I have better (indiscernible) because the last few months I have been playing pretty good. I really wanted to win a tournament.

"At Kingsmill, I started to say that I'm not going to think about the outcome. I'm not going to think about winning tournament. I'm just going to go out and make sure I have good (indiscernible) every shot. After doing that, I think it's pretty good right now.”

Fellow leader Lee is a multiple winner on the Korean LPGA Tour but does not play in the US regularly although she did finish 5th in this event last year.


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