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Friday, June 10, 2005



LPGA CHAMPIONSHIP


art
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Michelle Wie watched her drive at the fourth hole during yesterday's first round of the LPGA Championship at the Bulle Rock Golf Club in Havre de Grace, Md.



Gulbis holds lead

Sorenstam trails by one, while Wie
is tied for eighth after playing
through an upset stomach

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. » Cool and precise on the outside, Annika Sorenstam felt a battle brewing inside her head yesterday in the LPGA Championship.

Part of her was excited to be on top of her game in a major championship, knowing she is fully equipped to capture the second leg of the Grand Slam. The other part knew it was imperative to stay calm, realizing that majors can only be lost on the first day.

"The calm won today," Sorenstam said after shooting a 4-under 68 that left her one shot out of the lead.

It wasn't enough to be atop the leaderboard at the end of a sauna-like day at Bulle Rock Golf Club, but plenty good to get the attention of those around her.

Natalie Gulbis rose to the occasion playing with Sorenstam by closing with five straight birdies, including an 18-foot putt on the ninth hole for a 67, pumped to be one shot ahead of Sorenstam, even if it was the first round.

"I think everyone wants to beat her," Gulbis said.

Laura Diaz was the only player to reach 6 under par before dropping a shot on the 17th. She also finished at 67 and was asked if Sorenstam was on her mind.

"There's nothing I can do about how Annika plays," Diaz said. "I think if we could control her, we would."

Then came big-hitting Laura Davies, who took on the 596-yard 11th hole with two drivers and came up just 30 yards short on the rain-softened fairways. She finished with a 30-foot birdie for her 67, and was reminded that a victory this week would put her into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

"Well, obviously there's a certain Sorenstam out there that's hard to beat," Davies said. "But I think if I can finish better than Annika this week, then maybe."

There already was one Hall of Fame celebration Thursday when Karrie Webb played her 10th tournament of the year, giving her 10 years on the LPGA Tour, the final requirement for induction.

Bulle Rock offered a little of everything in its debut as the new host of the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

The kids even got a piece of the action, with 18-year-old Paula Creamer making four straight birdies inside 6 feet on the back nine to join Sorenstam and two others at 68; and 15-year-old Michelle Wie overcoming a sick stomach to post a 69 as the first amateur to ever play this major.

Still, the focus was on Sorenstam.

"Today is probably 10 percent of the whole tournament," Sorenstam said. "It's such a long way to go. I've got to be patient, If you prepare for months and months and set high goals, the last thing to do is come to a tournament and get in my own way. That would ruin it for myself."

Gulbis, the calendar girl whose next project is a reality show on TV, put some focus on her game with a terrific finish. She was a bystander for most of the day until she hit a 6-iron to 10 feet and holed the birdie putt on No. 5. She followed that with two more approach shots inside 10 feet, and hit her best shot of the round, a 5-wood that stopped 25 feet away on the par-5 eighth for a two-putt birdie.

"My caddie and I thought 8 under would win this," Gulbis said. "I thought pretty much anything under par would be a really good round."

There were plenty of scores like that -- 29 players broke par, and 45 were at par or better.

Wie, playing her first tournament since a tie for 14th in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, wasn't sure she could finish. When she walked off the ninth green at even par, she looked as though she would rather be anywhere than on the golf course. Then, play was suspended nearly an hour because of storms in the area.

"I feel really stupid saying this," Wie said. "I ate too much. It caused a little indigestion. Every time I breathed, it felt like barf was coming out."

The break recharged her, and she played the back nine in 32.

Davies charged up the galleries with her aggressive style, especially on the par 5s. The 596-yard 11th hole is believed to be the longest ever in women's golf, and Davies pounded her tee shot beyond the 300-yard mark. She opted for another driver, probably not the smartest shot, but "I just wanted to see if I could get there."

"I'll be trying all bloody week, I tell you," she said.

She wound up about 30 yards short, but pitched to 3 feet for an easy birdie. She had eagle putts on two other par 5s, hitting a 7-iron for her second shot on the 481-yard eighth hole.

But the most important club in her bag, as always, was the putter.

Davies hasn't won in four years on the LPGA Tour, remaining two points shy of the 27 points needed for the Hall of Fame. Her putting began to turn around when she had her caddie start lining up the head of her putter, and a 62 last week gave her a shot of confidence.

Webb was never more happy shooting a 74.

She earned Hall of Fame points five years ago when she won the U.S. Women's Open, and needed to put in 10 years on tour. She got there Thursday when she finished her round.

"It's a funny feeling," Webb said. "I've known for a few years that as long as I stayed upright and played 10 events a year, I would qualify."

Three players were standing tall and in the lead. Sorenstam, however, was looming large.



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