Sat, Jul 31, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Stupples leads in British Open

PRO GOLF TOUR With Annika Sorenstam long gone from the course after her breakfast-time round, Stupples was cheered on by the increasing galleries

AP , SUNNINGDALE, ENGLANDAP, GRAND BLANC, MICHIGANAP, ST. LOUIS, MISSOURIAP, NEW YORK

Austraila's Nadine Taylor tees off from the 17th during her first round at the Women's British Open golf tournament at Sunningdale, England, Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Annika Sorenstam went out early and shot a 4-under 68 to set the mark for the Women's British Open.

It took the rest of the field five hours to beat it. And Karen Stupples left them way behind.

The Englishwoman who won the opening tournament of the LPGA Tour in March shot a 65 to take the first round lead at Sunningdale on Thursday. She had seven birdies and no bogeys.

"It was great to see the progress, looking at the numbers -- one, two three and so on up to seven. That was pretty good,'' said Stupples, whose success at the Welch's/Fry's Championship at Tucson, Arizona in March came after a single third place finish in five years on the tour.

"And looking at who else was out there, where they were at, how they were doing. I think it's always good to look."

Pak Se-ri, winner of this championship on the same course three years ago, was laboring to a 1-over 73. Sherri Steinhauer, who won it twice before it became a major, also made 73. Meg Mallon, US Women's Open winner three weeks ago, managed only a 75 and seven-time major winner Juli Inkster had a 71.

Stupples was cheered on by the increasing galleries in the afternoon.

"I always want to play well when I come home," she said. "It was fantastic to do it in front of a home crowd."

The English fans had hoped to see Laura Davies put in a strong challenge to defending champion Sorenstam and she birdied the first two holes on the way to a 2-under 70. But Stupples, who faded to fourth after taking the halfway lead in last week's Evan Masters in France, dragged the galleries away from the regular hometown favorite.

Going into Friday's second round, she held a two stroke lead over Jung Leon Lee of South Korea with Sorenstam, Scotland's Catriona Matthew, Finland's Minea Blomqvist, Germany's Bettina Hauert and American Natalie Gulbis a further shot back.

Sorenstam, who won the LPGA Championship for the second time in a row last month and placed second to Mallon at the US Women's Open on July 4, was pleased with her best opening round at the British Open.

"The conditions were great -- not a breath of air," she said. "The greens were pure and they were really good scoring conditions."

The Swedish star has a chance this week to win all four major championships twice in a row, a feat accomplished only by Mickey Wright (1958-1959 US Open, 1960-1961 LPGA Championship, 1961-1962 Titleholders and 1962-1963 Western Open). Sorenstam also won the US Open in 1995-1996 and the Nabisco Championship in 2001-2002.

Vijay Singh and Olin Brown might just start a trend.

They both switched putters recently, and had the best two scores Thursday.

Singh shot a 9-under 63 to take the first-round lead, one shot ahead of Brown and four in front of Tiger Woods.

Singh went back to a standard putter, after using a long one for 2 1/2 years, and the change seemed to work.

"I'm a great chipper and a good bunker player, but if you keep missing [short putts], that kind of eats into your game," he said. "And you put so much pressure into going for the flags that whenever you make a mistake, it's a bogey."

The 1997 Buick Open champion from Fiji had eight straight 3s -- five birdies, an eagle and two pars -- between Nos. 8-15 at Warwick Hills.

"I've never made so many 3s in my life, but on a par-3 golf course," joked Singh, who fell two shots short of the tournament record.

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