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Sorenstam holds lead at U.S. Women's Open

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- A shrinking list of challengers all made costly bogeys on the 18th hole, allowing Annika Sorenstam to get out of the sweltering sun with a two-stroke lead Saturday in the U.S. Women's Open.

She says the tournament is far from over.

It sure doesn't look that way.

Prairie Dunes might have met its match in Sorenstam, who lived up to her reputation as the most dominant player in women's golf with her third straight round of par or better, this time a 1-under 69 to take a two-stroke lead over Jill McGill and Juli Inkster.

The 31-year-old Swede, who already has won half of her 12 tournaments this year including a major championship, hit every fairway and missed only three greens on a course that demands precision at every turn.

She seized control with a 12-foot birdie on the tough, 400-yard 16th hole after a booming drive that split the fairway and an 8-iron into the brick-hard green.

Sorenstam finished at 208, the only player still under par.

And she sounds like she's just warming up.

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I can,'' Sorenstam said. ''I know my game is good enough to win, so I don't worry about everyone else.''

She might not have to.

Sorenstam will be paired with McGill, best known for turning down an offer to pose nude for Playboy magazine. McGill has never won on the LPGA Tour, and Sunday will be her first time in the final group -- at the biggest championship in women's golf, no less.

She got herself in position to pose with the Open trophy by shooting a 69, which included a round-saving bogey after hitting into waist-high weeds on No. 13, and a disappointing bogey on the final hole that dropped her to 210.

Along with trying to contain her nerves, McGill will be playing with someone who's had to hit out of the rough only once in the last two days.

''She's a machine,'' McGill said. ''I wouldn't expect her to make any drastic mistakes.''

Also at 210 is Inkster, who can thank her brilliant short game for still having a chance. She hit only eight greens and escaped with a 71. Seven par saves -- four from the 6-foot range -- kept alive her hopes of becoming the Women's Open oldest champion. Fay Crocker was 40 years, 11 months when she won in 1955.

''I keep telling myself that I'm close,'' the 42-year-old Inkster said. ''I think I'm going to have to go with what I've got. I have to play better.''

The problem they face is that Sorenstam has the same objective.

''I'm going to think about having the lowest score of the day,'' Sorenstam said. ''My game plan is to hit every fairway and every green, and not worry about anything else.''

Shani Waugh of Australia also stayed in the picture, thanks to a 30-foot eagle putt on No. 7 and solid play along the back nine until a bogey on 18 dropped her to a 71. She was at 1-over 211 and will play with Inkster.

Those might be the only players with a legitimate chance. Michele Redman holed a 155-yard shot from the ninth fairway for eagle, but had two short lip-outs on the back nine and finished with a 73, five strokes behind.

The biggest meltdown belonged to Laura Diaz, who started the third round tied for the lead at 1-under with Sorenstam and Inkster. She bogeyed four out of five holes in the middle of her round and plummeted to a 77.

Sorenstam hasn't won the Women's Open since her second straight title in 1996. If a two-stroke lead isn't enough of an advantage, she is equipped with a game that has been nearly flawless over three days at Prairie Dunes.

She has missed only one fairway over the last two days, and solved one of her problems -- pace of putting -- with two nice lags for par on the opening holes that put her in a good frame of mind the rest of the day.

The wind wasn't nearly as strong as it had been the previous two rounds as thunderstorms threatened throughout the day. There were spits of rain, strong gusts and a steamy sun -- all in the five minutes that Inkster and Diaz were on the first tee ready to start.

Still, it took until the fifth hole before any of the leaders got going.

Sorenstam rolled in a birdie putt from 12 feet on No. 5 and hit a good bunker shot that trickled to 3 feet for another birdie on the par-5 seventh hole.

Her only mistakes were missing the 12th green long, leading to an up-and-down for bogey, and finding the upper ridge on No. 14 with a lob wedge, setting up a three-putt.

It's going to take more than that to beat her Sunday.

Inkster, remarkably, is still in the hunt despite not hitting the ball where she wants it to go. She didn't hit a green in regulation until No. 4, and spent most of the afternoon making one clutch par putt after another.

''It just takes one or two good shots, and I'm on my way,'' Inkster said.

The question is whether that will be enough to catch Sorenstam.



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