- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) Karrie Webb was so lost in the first round of the U.S. Women's Open that she felt like she had never seen Prairie Dunes.
Juli Inkster played like she owned the course.
Twenty-two years after winning the U.S. Women's Amateur at Prairie Dunes, Inkster birdied four of the first six holes and finished with a 3-under-par 67, giving her a share of the lead with Laura Diaz and Shani Waugh.
"It's always important to have a good first round just to get yourself in the ball game," Inkster said.
Webb is already headed for the showers after a swift and shocking collapse.
Trying to become the first woman to win the Open three straight years, Webb had her worst round since joining the LPGA Tour in 1996, a 9-over 79 that left her hopeful only of making it to the weekend.
"I'm pretty shocked," Webb said. "It was totally out of the blue."
The result is not without precedent.
Five years ago, Annika Sorenstam was going for her third straight Women's Open title when she opened with a 77 and missed the cut.
History is still on the line at this Open, only now it shifts to the 42-year-old Inkster, who has a chance to become the oldest champion. Fay Crocker was 40 years, 11 months when she won in 1955.
Inkster relied heavily on her short game and wasted little time laying down the challenge to Sorenstam, who played in the same group.
"I feel like I'm off and running," Inkster said.
Sorenstam felt like she was running in place. Three straight bogeys on the back nine dropped her back to even-par 70 not a bad day, but the Swede was expecting more because of the benign conditions in the morning.
By late afternoon, the sun began to bake the greens and a blustery wind made scoring even more difficult. None of the 75 players who teed off in the afternoon managed to break par, leaving only six players in the 60s.
Kim Saiki had a bogey-free 68, while Lorie Kane of Canada and Catriona Matthew of Scotland were at 69. Sorenstam was among eight players at even-par 70, while 16-year-old Aree Wongluekiet and 45-year-old Beth Daniel were in a large group at 71.
Prairie Dunes played five strokes over par. Fifteen players failed to break 80, including Nancy Lopez, who had an 81 to start her final Open.
Se Ri Pak, who won the LPGA Championship on a difficult course last month, bogeyed three of her first seven holes and closed with two straight bogeys in a round of 74. She was paired with Webb, and both headed straight to the range.
Webb had an 8-over 79 in the LPGA Championship five years ago. Her previous worst score in a U.S. Open was a 7-over 78 at Blackwolf Run in 1998.
The crushing hole for the 27-year-old Aussie was the par-3 4th, where she hit into a bunker, blasted over the green and into waist-high weeds, had to drop back into the bunker after declaring it unplayable, and walked off with triple bogey.
Inkster didn't drive the ball particularly well, but a perfect pace on her putts allowed her to seize control early and stay there on a hot and humid day.
"Hopefully, we didn't see the tamest day," Inkster said.
That might be asking for too much. She tees off in the afternoon today, and could find an entirely different course.
That's what made the first round so important, and why Sorenstam was so disappointed, even though she was just three strokes out of the lead.
It was the 17th consecutive round in which the 31-year-old Swede failed to break 70 in the Women's Open, dating to the final round of her second straight victory in 1996.
A 70 was a solid score, only Sorenstam had reason to expect much more. She tied Inkster for the lead at 3-under after making a 6-foot birdie on the par-3 10th, but then used the putter 18 times over the final eight holes.
If she wasn't knocking her putts 8 feet by, she was coming up 4 feet short.
"My pace of putts I kind of lost feel there for a little bit and it cost me a few shots," Sorenstam said. "I'm still right there. I can't complain. It's probably the best start I've had in a while, so I can smile about that."


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