Mon, Oct 16, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Sorenstam grabs the lead at LPGA Championship

SEVEN-BIRDIE ROUND Although the Swede has been pressured a bit by Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, she has won 12 of the past 13 events she led in the final round

AFP , PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA

Annika Sorenstam, trying to become the first player to win an LPGA event six times, fired a six-under par 66 on Saturday for a three-stroke lead at the LPGA Samsung World Championship.

World No. 1 Sorenstam stood at a 12-under par 204 -- three ahead of Mexican Lorena Ochoa -- after 54 holes at the US$875,000 event.

The Swedish star made seven birdies on Saturday in the low round of the week, her last coming when she curled in a 15-footer on the 18th hole. It was a dramatic improvement from her one-under 71 performance on Friday.

"The key was I was a lot more settled, I felt more comfortable," Sorenstam said.

Two-time defending champion Sorenstam won this event in 1995, 1996, 2002 and the past two years to match Mickey Wright's LPGA record one-event title total from the Sea Island Classic in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sorenstam, who celebrated her 36th birthday last Monday, would capture her 70th career LPGA crown with a victory, trailing only Wright's 82 and Kathy Whitworth's record 88 on the all-time women's golf list.

Season LPGA money leader Ochoa -- paired with Sorenstam during the first two days at the championship -- has won a tour-best four titles this year to only three for Sorenstam. But just one of Ochoa's triumphs came with Sorenstam in the field.

"I'm within a short distance," Ochoa said. "I'm going to be very aggressive and very positive and give her a hard time. With her you always have to start well. You have to play well. You can't make any mistakes."

Sorenstam hit back-to-back birdies twice in the first seven holes to seize command. She dropped back with a bogey on the ninth but began the back nine with another clutch birdie to run her lead back up to three-strokes at 10-under par.

Sorenstam lipped out a six-foot birdie putt on the par-5 12th but responded by banging in a 45-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th to reach 11 under.

That answered the challenge issued by fellow Swede Sophie Gustafson, who just seconds earlier had eagled from 25 feet on the par-5 12th. She fired a 70 to hold down third place, four strokes behind Sorenstam.

Sorenstam followed with four pars and her concluding birdie, answering Ochoa's birdie and ensuring the two would play together in the last round.

Sorenstam has won 12 of the past 13 events in which she has led entering the final round.

Ochoa birdied two of her last four holes, dropping a clutch putt on the par-5 15th and rolling in a 20-footer at the 18th hole, to grab second place and join Sorenstam in yesterday's showdown final round.

Teen prodigy Michelle Wie fired her second consecutive par 72 thanks to a birdie on the 18th hole to stand on two-over 218, sharing 13th after 54 holes.

She blasted in from a bunker for a birdie on the 14th but collected her third bogey on the 15th before answering at the end.

Wie, who turned 17 on Wednesday, made her professional debut at this event a year ago.

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