- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

BETHLEHEM, Pa. | Cristie Kerr strung together three birdies on the front nine Friday in a round of 1-under 70 to take a one-stroke lead on Paula Creamer after two rounds of the U.S. Women’s Open.

Kerr, the 2007 champion, overcame a bout of lightheadedness at the start and had one of only six rounds under par on the tough Saucon Valley Country Club layout, offsetting four bogeys with five birdies. She stands at 3-under 139.

The focus Friday was back on golf, a marked change at an event that has been overshadowed by a dispute between LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens and more than a dozen top tour players who signed a letter calling for her resignation.

The New York Times, citing a source, reported Bivens originally planned to fight the move to force her out but had decided to step down after the Open.

The drama off the course was not a distraction to the players, who were more concerned with the narrow fairways and speedy undulating greens at the Old Course as the cut line fell at 9 over.

Kerr moved around the course with the confidence that only a major winner can display.

“It’s great to know that I’ve won one, and I know I can do it on the weekend,” she said. “I feel very comfortable.”

Not feeling her best at the start, Kerr opened with a bogey and four pars. She began feeling better on the 13th - she started on the back nine - and hit stride on the 15th through 17th.

She rolled in putts of 9, 3 and 8 feet for her run of birdies and, after a pair of bogeys to open her back nine, made birdie putts of 15 and 12 feet on the way in to maintain the lead.

Creamer carded a 3-under 68 after an opening 72 in her quest for her first Women’s Open title and was alone in second at 2-under 140. She is coming off a thumb injury that forced her to miss the last two tournaments, but there was no sign the sore thumb is affecting her play.

“Being able to play pain-free is very nice, and not having to withdraw or worry about my thumb is a very nice feeling,” she said.

Creamer started the day 1 over and moved into red numbers after back-to-back birdies at the ninth and 10th. Her round included five birdies, two bogeys and 11 pars, good enough for sole possession of second, her best standing after two rounds in an Open.

The 22-year-old knows she has a long weekend ahead in pursuit of her first major win.

“I think that just going out this weekend is going to be hard,” Creamer said. “The USGA is not going to make it easy on us, that’s for sure. I’m going to have to be prepared for that. I’m going to hit some good shots and not be rewarded. I’m going to hopefully hit some good shots and be rewarded.”

Futures Tour player Jean Reynolds is third after a 72 for a 1-under 141. Reynolds continued to be the surprise of the event. A two-time winner this year on the Futures Tour - and its leading money winner - she hung tough in just her second Women’s Open.

“I’ve managed to just leave myself in good positions to where I’m not making big numbers,” she said. “I’ve made my share of bogeys, but I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of birdies this week, too.”

Reynolds overcame hitting just nine of 14 fairways to give herself a shot at the championship.

First-round leader Na Yeon Choi shot a 3-over 74 and was tied with Giulia Sergas at even par. Sergas had the lowest round of the day, a 4-under 67.

Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa struggled to a round of 8-over 79 and stood at 6-over for the championship.

The final two rounds will be spiced with a bit of old and new. Former champion Laura Davies, playing on a special exemption, made the cut, as did 14-year-old amateur Alexis Thompson, who is in contention after a 73 put her at 2 over and tied for eighth.

Davies followed an opening 72 with a 75 and is at 5 over, tied for 28th. She won the 1987 Open, beating Ayako Okamoto and JoAnne Carner in an 18-hole playoff for her first professional victory. She has played in every Open since 1986.

Thompson made the cut for the first time in three tries, following an even-par 71 with a 2-over 73. But her 2-over 144 not only made the cut by seven strokes, it left her in contention for the title two years after she became the youngest player ever to qualify for the Women’s Open.

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