- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 3, 2004

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. — Plodding along with pars is usually the kind of golf that wins the U.S. Women’s Open.

That sure wasn’t the case yesterday, a day of wild adventures at Orchards Golf Club that sent Michelle Wie into a patch of poison ivy, turned another teenager’s glee into gloom and eventually ended with Jennifer Rosales in the lead at a major for the second time in three weeks.

“To put yourself in position to have a good weekend is half the battle,” Kelly Robbins said after playing four straight holes in 5 under, followed by three straight bogeys.

The one constant was Annika Sorenstam, who missed only one green (just barely) and one fairway for a 68 that left her two shots out of the lead and poised to win the biggest event in women’s golf.

Rosales shot out of the gate with three straight birdies and closed with a 12-foot birdie that gave her a 4-under 67 and a one-shot lead over fellow Southern California alum Candie Kung and Kim Saiki.

Kung chipped in twice for birdie in her round of 68.

Saiki, trying to become the first player in 24 years to win an LPGA Tour event the week before winning a U.S. Open, finished bogey-birdie-bogey for a 68.

No one had a crazier time than Wie, the 14-year-old from Hawaii. She hit a spectator with her tee shot on No.10, then had to play out of poison ivy on the 14th hole after driving deep into the woods. It all led to a 1-under 70 and only four shots behind, although she wasn’t even low teenager.

Paula Creamer, 17, finished with a birdie for a 69 and was tied with Wie.

The other teen had a tougher time. Brittany Lincicome, an 18-year-old Floridian who tied a Women’s Open record with a 66 in the first round, was shaky with her irons and her putting. She bogeyed three straight holes to reach the turn and wound up 11 shots worse at 77.

Rosales, who won an NCAA title at USC, was at 5-under 137 and has a lead for only the second time in a major. The other occasion was the LPGA Championship last month when she led after the first round. The second round was washed out, but she didn’t survive the long weekend.

“Hopefully, this weekend will be different,” Rosales said.

Sorenstam, Carin Koch (67) and Michelle Ellis (69) were at 139, while Rachel Teske (69) and Moira Dunn (67) were another shot back.

The dream teens — Wie and Creamer — were joined at 1-under 141 by Robbins (67) and Pat Hurst.

Given how the second round went, the weekend could be wide open.

“Thirty-six holes is a lot of golf at a U.S. Open,” two-time champion Juli Inkster said after her second straight round of even-par 71. “I like my position.”

Still, all eyes are starting to shift toward the best player in the game.

Sorenstam, who won the LPGA Championship three weeks ago in a 36-hole final day, started to hit her stride with what she called one of her better ball-striking rounds.

“I think I’m in good position,” Sorenstam said. “I’m happy at this point.”

Sorenstam was among 75 players who had to return yesterday morning to finish her round and she made double bogey on the first of 21 holes she played. She was solid the rest of the way, making two birdies on the opening three holes, hitting a delicate bump-and-run up a steep slope to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 third to tie for the lead.

Her only mistake was a three-putt from 25 feet on No.8, and the cheers ahead of her for Rosales’ birdie turned into a two-shot swing, and ultimately a two-shot deficit.

Still, the 33-year-old looks more comfortable with each round, unlike previous Women’s Opens when she wanted to win so badly that she got in her own way.

“I’m trying to stay really calm, and I think one of the things that’s good for me is that I’m tired,” said Sorenstam, who had to wake up at 4:30a.m. to finish her first round.

Wie, who continues to draw the largest galleries at Orchards, never allowed herself to get on a roll. Powerful drives set up easy birdies, but she gave strokes back with wayward tee shots.

She drilled her second shot on the par-5 13th into 25 feet and squatted inches from the ground — no small feat for a 6-foot kid — when it grazed the lip. That put her at 3 under, closing in on the lead. But her tee shot on the next hole hooked so sharply to the left that Wie hit a provisional in case it was unplayable.

It was in play — sort of.

“I thought my ball was lost,” she said. “But I was in poison ivy. And I was like, ‘Can I get relief from that please?’ But I didn’t get relief. I just punched out.”

She answered with an approach that landed 6 inches behind the cup on No. 15 and spun back 6 feet for birdie, but again found trouble off the tee, this time on the 439-yard 16th hole, forcing her to lay up short of the creek. Wie hit a lob wedge from 70 yards with hopes of it spinning back to the hole, but her confident pose turned into shock when it sailed over the green, leading to double bogey.

Still, she was starting to believe she could win.

“I had a couple of ups and downs,” Wie said. “If I just get rid of the downs, then I’ll be good.”

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