U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Pat Hurst shot a 71 yesterday to keep pace with Annika Sorenstam atop the U.S. Women's Open leaderboard.
Sorenstam, Hurst tied at top
NEWPORT, R.I. » Michelle Wie took a penalty stroke to escape the bushes and had to drop in the mud and muck yesterday, turning that adventure into an amazing par that kept alive her hopes at the U.S. Women's Open.
Pat Hurst made two straight bogeys that sent her tumbling out of the lead, including one from a mud-caked lie in the bunker that she blasted over the 13th green. Stacy Prammanasudh dropped five shots in five holes, then recovered with two birdies in a roller-coaster finish. Paula Creamer struggled to find the fairway and to keep her calm.
And where was Annika Sorenstam during this laborious afternoon at Newport Country Club?
Relaxing in her palatial quarters, tied for the lead and saving her energy for a 36-hole finish today.
"I'm sure she's home just getting out of the covers from a nice, 2-hour nap," Juli Inkster said after scrapping around Newport for more than five hours in the sun for a 1-under 70, one of only three players to break par in the second round.
Sorenstam couldn't have asked for a better day. She played solidly in a round of even-par 71 that she finished about 1 p.m., putting her at 2-under 140 and in a share of the lead with Hurst, who steadied herself with a birdie on the par-5 16th for a 71.
"It's going to be a long day tomorrow, and I think the key for me now is to get some lunch and rest, and totally recharge my batteries, and give it my all tomorrow," Sorenstam said.
Sorenstam and Hurst were the only players still under par. They were two shots ahead of Shi Hyun Ahn (71), 19-year-old amateur Jane Park (73) and Wie, who again captivated the crowd by taking the lead, losing it with a double bogey out of a muddy bunker and saving her day with that improbable par.
"It was all-in-all a very good hole," Wie said. "Right after it went in the hole, I laughed at myself. It was pretty ridiculous."
Now comes the biggest test of all.
The pressure in the final round already is enormous at the U.S. Women's Open, by far the biggest championship on the LPGA Tour. But they first have to play 18 holes to get there, making for a 10-hour day on a course that is relentless.
"It's going to be a grind. You've just got to hang tough and try not to blow a gasket out there," said Inkster, whose 70 left her very much in the hunt at 1-over 143, along with Creamer (72) and five-time major winner Se Ri Pak (74).
Dense fog that wiped out Thursday's first round is the culprit for the first 36-hole Sunday at the Women's Open since 1990, and what happened that day is a reminder that this tournament is far from over. Betsy King overcame an 11-shot deficit at Atlanta Athletic Club to overcome fast-fading Patty Sheehan.
Even with Sorenstam atop the leaderboard, looking determined to end her 10-year drought in the Women's Open, this tournament is still up for grabs. There were 18 players within five shots of the lead with 36 holes to play.
"Today is normally moving day," Creamer said. "Tomorrow, we're just going to have to keep it going."
Sorenstam played another tidy round in mild breezes, opening with 13 consecutive pars until she hit a 4-iron to 15 feet on the par-3 fifth. It was back and forth from there, a 7-wood that didn't reach the sixth green for bogey, a 15-foot birdie putt on the seventh that hung briefly on the edge of the cup before falling, and a bogey on the ninth when 7-wood from the rough came up short.
"I'm tired after 71 shots," Sorenstam said. "Tomorrow is going to be probably double that, and that takes a lot out of you."
Inkster was reminded of the strange week when she finished her 18th hole, traded hugs with her playing partners and said what she always does after the second round of a tournament -- good luck on the weekend.
Then she caught herself.
"Have a good day tomorrow," she said.