Friday, June 6, 2008

LPGA Championship - Round 1 Wrap

Seconds after striking her fourth tee shot Thursday in Havre de Grace, Md., Lorena Ochoa yelled "Fore left!" as her ball hooked ominously toward the gallery at the 415-yard 13th hole, took a big bounce and ultimately was buried in thick, waist-high grass 25 yards from the fairway.

It was an uncharacteristic blunder by the No. 1 player in the world, and over the next 10 minutes, she pondered all manner of unsatisfying options before taking a penalty shot for an unplayable lie. She then moved back 50 yards to the parallel 11th hole and somehow managed to salvage a double bogey that might have caused less poised players to lose focus.

But Ochoa never faltered.

Instead, she birdied two of the last four holes on that side, including a 40-foot birdie putt at the 422-yard No. 18, to get back to even par. With three more birdies on her bogey-free back nine, she posted a 3-under-par 69 in the opening round of the LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock, three shots off the 18-hole lead of 6-under 66 posted by veteran Lorie Kane and Futures Tour graduate Emily Bastel earlier on a hot, muggy afternoon in northeast Maryland.

After her near-calamity at No. 13, Ochoa was soon back on a seemingly relentless path toward her publicly stated goal of becoming the first woman to win all four major championships in a season. She is already halfway to a "Lorena Slam" of four straight majors, winning the British Open at St. Andrews in July and the Kraft Nabisco in April in the first major of 2008.

"I knew I had a lot of holes left, and I still had three par 5s and I'm feeling good," Ochoa said about her thought process after the debilitating early double. "I didn't get too stressed. I just thought it would be fine to make a couple of birdies on the front and finish even, and then three more on the back. So I did that.

"Today was important just not to get away too far from the leaders, and that's why I'm so happy that I did. Three under for the first day of a major is good, even though I had the double bogey. And hopefully, tomorrow I'll have a great round."

Neither of the leaders has had a top 10 finish all year, and Kane has struggled to make cuts. But they found their way across a long and soggy golf course, which took on so much rain overnight that fairways felt like carpet in a home that had been flooded.

Bastel finished her bogey-free 66 with a birdie on the 18th hole, one of two holes where the tees were moved up some 30 yards to accommodate the wet conditions.

Lindsey Wright had a 67 and was one shot behind, followed by a group at 68 that included Nicole Castrale.

Annika Sorenstam, who shot a 70, certainly had her chances, but couldn't convert several birdie putts inside 12 feet.

"Hit the ball beautifully today," said Sorenstam, a three-time LPGA champion in her final year on tour. "Just didn't make some putts today, unfortunately. But I'm very, very happy with my game..."

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