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Friday, March 25, 2005



GOLF


art
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Michelle Wie watched her birdie putt just miss on the fourth hole yesterday.


Wie tied for fourth
at major, 1 back

The Honolulu teen falls from
the lead with a bogey on 17

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. » The LPGA's first major of the year almost always has some young amateurs in the hunt on the first day, and yesterday was no exception at the Nabisco Championship.

Honolulu teen Michelle Wie, 15, and playing in her third Nabisco, had the lead early yesterday before stumbling with a bogey on the par-3 17th to fall a stroke back, where she sits in a five-way tie for fourth with 16-year-old Morgan Pressel, Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster and Carin Koch.

Atop the leaderboard are Rosie Jones, Karen Stupples and Mi Hyun Kim.

Wie, who finished in the top 10 in both her previous Nabiscos, hit a 7-iron short on No. 17 and then missed a 5-foot par putt after chipping up.

That was the only bogey of the day for Wie, who says she is becoming better at course management the more she plays and doesn't always automatically reach for the driver off the tee anymore.

"I'm hitting the ball a lot softer," Wie said. "On the holes than I can (hit driver) I do, but I have more course management now. I can improve, but I feel like it's gotten better the last couple of years."

Pressel, who played in the U.S. Women's Open four years ago as a 12-year-old, made all pars on the front side and two birdies coming in to post her 70 and tie with Wie.

Wie's group lurked a stroke behind the trio of leaders, which included the 45-year-old Jones, who plans to retire at the end of the season.

Jones, playing patiently like the veteran she is, didn't make a bogey all day, shooting a 3-under 69 to share the first-round lead of the season's first major tournament with England's Stupples and Kim of South Korea.

It was an uneasy lead at best, though, with Sorenstam and two stars of the future right behind.

Jones, who has 13 wins in a career that began in 1982 but no major victories, played in the morning, when the wind was calmer and the course seemed like it was there for the taking. She finished her round with a flurry, hitting a 7-iron to 2 feet on the final hole for a finishing birdie.

"It's kind of amazing that I shot 64 last week and finished tied for fifth and we're still talking about retirement," Jones said. "I do want to retire. I don't want to be out there -- it's a lot of hard work and my body is wearing out."

Jones had surgery last year on a herniated disc, had neck problems and didn't win a tournament. She said she is tired of having to do the things necessary to compete with players half her age.

Still, she liked her position almost as much as she liked getting off the course.

"Whenever I get to 18 out here, I'm really glad it's over," Jones said. "This is a really tough golf course and, you know, I'll take the birdies whenever I can get them."

Stupples made five birdies and two bogeys to match Jones for the lead despite playing late in the day, when the wind picked up and the temperature started to drop in the desert.

Stupples won the last women's major, the British Open, but has only two wins in her pro career.

"I do enjoy the majors," she said. "I like them for the challenge the courses bring. I know that you have to fight for every single shot out there, so it helps me concentrate a little better."

Sorenstam didn't surprise anyone when she got to 3 under after only four holes. The only surprise on this day was she wasn't on top of the leaderboard when the last putts rolled in.

The trio of players leading after the opening round yesterday didn't have to look far, though, to find the most dominant player in golf. Sorenstam was an ominous presence, just a shot back and pretty much where she wanted to be.

"Not a bad start," Sorenstam said. "I just didn't finish it as well as I'd like to."

Sorenstam played her final 14 holes 1 over for an opening 70.

"This is probably one of the better starts I've had in this tournament," Sorenstam said.

That could be bad news for other players, particularly since Sorenstam has won the last four tournaments she entered and has her sights set on winning all four major championships this year.

The Nabisco is the first of those four, and Sorenstam looked like she may make it a runaway when she eagled the second hole and then birdied No. 4. But the winds picked up and Sorenstam struggled on the way in, making a final bogey on the 17th hole to drop out of the lead.

"The wind made it a lot tougher, I thought," Sorenstam said. "I thought I putted well, but they just didn't go in. It seems like the greens are a little moody."



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