Ariya, Patty out to boost Thai medal haul
TOKYO: Patty Tavatanakit and Ariya Jutanugarn will be bidding to add medals to Thailand's meagre tally when the women's golf tournament at the Tokyo Games begins on Wednesday at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
Major winners Ariya and Patty, whose Thai name is Paphangkorn, are among medal contenders in the 60-player field.
They are the Kingdom's last medal hopes at Tokyo 2020 which ends on Sunday.
So far, Thailand have won only two medals since the Games started on July 23, from taekwondo champion Panipak Wongpattanakit and boxer Sudaporn Seesondee who is assured of a bronze after reaching the semi-finals yesterday.
While Patty is making her Olympic debut, it is Ariya's second appearance at the Games having played at Rio 2016.
From a relatively unknown player on the international stage, Patty, 21, shot to stardom when she won her maiden LPGA Tour title at the ANA Inspiration in April.
With the win, she becomes Thailand's only second major champion after Ariya who won the 2016 Women's British Open and 2018 US Women's Open.
Patty has since been quite consistent and was tied for fifth at the Women's PGA Championship.
"I'm excited to be at the Olympics and represent my country," she said.
After a slump in form, Ariya, 25, ended her title drought by becoming the first home player to win the LPGA Thailand in May.
Last month, she partnered her sister Moriya to win the Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a two-player team event on the LPGA Tour.
Ariya, a 12-time LPGA winner, will seek redemption at Tokyo after her flop at Rio where she withdrew in the third round citing an injury.
Other contenders this week include defending champion Park In-Bee of South Korea, world No.1 Nelly Korda of the US, and Evian Championship winner Minjee Lee of Australia.
"It's a little bit different to 2016," Park said about the lack of spectators this week. "But the same result would be nice, right?"
Korda reached No.1 in the world this year after winning her first major at the Women's PGA Championship at the end of June.
Korda is one half of a sister act with older, 15th-ranked sibling Jessica in a four-woman USA team which also features Lexi Thompson and Danielle Kang.
"There's no experience like representing Team USA," Nelly said.
Australia's Lee is in top form after making a career-defining breakthrough just over a week ago when she won her maiden major at the Evian Championship.
Lee finished tied seventh at the Rio Olympics, two strokes outside the bronze medal position, largely down to a disappointing third-round two-over par 73.
New Zealand's Lydia Ko endured a slump in form after winning silver at Rio before ending a three-year win drought at the Lotte Championship in April.
Back in form, don't be surprised if she challenges the podium again.
"I'm super excited for the Tokyo Olympics," she said. "I've always felt very proud to fly the New Zealand flag."
China's Feng Shanshan, the Rio bronze medallist, could also secure another podium finish.
"Out of all my achievements, I would say a medal at the Olympics is very special," said Feng, a one-time major winner.
"Even though I've been a major winner, think about it, we have five majors every year, in four years we have 20 chances to win a major.
"So I would say it's harder, much harder, to get a medal at the Olympics."