Annika Sorenstam stalks leaders


Sat, Jun 11, 2005 - Page 19

Two-time defending champion Annika Sorenstam shot a bogey-free 68 to lie a stroke behind co-leaders Natalie Gulbis, big-hitting Laura Davies and Laura Diaz after the LPGA Championship opening round on Thursday.

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 5-under 67. Davies bullied the par 5s at the Bulle Rock club.

Bulle Rock delivered plenty of excitement in sauna-like conditions, with a celebration for Karrie Webb as the newest member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and a celebration of youth. Eighteen-year-old Paula Creamer birdied four straight holes for a 68.

Davies could get into the Hall of Fame with a victory, although she knows the tournament doesn't really start until Sunday, and she was well aware of who was right behind her.

"There's a certain Sorenstam out there that wi|l be hard to beat," Davies said.

Sorenstam made it look easy, as always, giving herself ample birdie opportunities and only twice needing to save par from delicate spots from off the green.

She broke her own LPGA Tour record with her 12th consecutive round in the 60s. And it was just the start she was looking for as she goes for the second leg of the Grand Slam.

"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 big goals, the last thing to do is come to a tournament and get in my own way. That would ruin it for myself.

"There's two people in me -- one calm and one totally excited. The calm won today."

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.

Suddenly, she walked side-by-side with Sorenstam up the ninth fairway, tied for the lead, but not for long. Gulbis hit a 9-iron?that landed a foot in front of the flag before rolling back to 18 feet, and she ended her round in style.

Creamer, coming off her first LPGA Tour victory and then high school graduation, found a groove with her irons and didn't have to make a birdie putt longer than 6 feet coming in.

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."

She wound up about 30 yards short on the rain-softened fairways, 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.