RIO DE JANEIRO — Stacy Lewis made 11 birdies on Thursday to match the low score at Olympic Golf Course with an 8-under 63, putting her right in the mix for a gold medal in women’s golf.
As well as a low score, Lewis had red shoulders by the end of a sunny day. She always wears short sleeves, but her Team USA uniform didn’t fit.
Her only option was to go with the sleeveless version, which showed off shoulders that never get any sun.
She still had a patriotic look, walking to the first tee with a blue shirt and white shoulders that turned red by the end of a sunny day.
The American had no complaints about her golf or her position at the halfway point of the first Olympic women’s golf competition since 1900. Lewis was one shot behind Inbee Park of South Korea, who birdied her last two holes for another 5-under 66 and the 36-hole lead.
Charley Hull kept alive British hopes for a gold medal sweep in golf with a 66 that left her two shots behind Park.
Lewis piled up the birdies, finishing with four in a row, the last one the most unlikely. Her tee shot on the par-5 18th failed by a foot to clear a bunker, and the ball stayed on the steep slope of soft sand.
“I would have taken par and ran to the clubhouse,” Lewis said.
Instead, she hit one of her best shots with a 7-iron to advance it down the fairway, and then did even better with a hybrid from 199 yards to 4 feet for her 63.
“I was just trying to get a third shot after that lie in the bunker,” Lewis said. “I hit the shot of the week there.”
Marcus Fraser of Australia also shot a 63 in the opening round of the men’s competition last week on a course set up about 900 yards longer.
Lewis had no idea how many birdies she made or even how low she had shot until signing her card. All that mattered was a chance to win gold in what she considers the biggest week of her year — next to her marriage Aug. 6 to Houston women’s golf coach Gerrod Caldwell.
A former No. 1 in the world, Lewis has gone more than two years since her last victory. She was irritated with her swing during the opening round and even after her practice session Thursday morning. Seeing a lot of putts go in can change everything.
But it was her one bad hole that enabled Lewis to finish so well. Tied for the lead after a birdie on the 13th, she hit 4-iron into the bunker on the par-3 14th and blasted out weakly to 25 feet. After seeing so many putts go in, she charged her par putt about 4 feet by the hole and missed that one, taking double bogey.
“I was a little bit mad after the double on 14 and got my focus back instead of going the other way,” she said.
She birdied the next two holes, then converted a 25-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 17th and finished with her best birdie of the round.
Park made her first bogey of the tournament on No. 7, but that was the only green she missed. She missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, and then converted birdies on the last two to reach 10-under 132. She figures to be a big part of the final two rounds the way she has kept the ball in play.
“I’m going to try to keep calm as much as I can,” she said. “I’m confident with everything, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.”
Hull didn’t arrive in Rio until Sunday night and wasn’t at the golf course when Justin Rose won golf’s first Olympic gold since 1904 with a birdie on the final hole to defeat British Open champion Henrik Stenson.
Lagging behind was Lydia Ko, the No. 1 player in the world and the favorite coming into the week. She could only muster a 70 and was seven shots out of the lead. Ariya Jutanugarn, who led after the opening round, was playing with Lewis and couldn’t keep up. She shot a 72 and fell five shots out of the lead.
The surprise was Aditi Ashok, the 18-year-old from India who had another 68 and was four shots out of the lead.