- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2003

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. (AP) — Mhairi McKay turned in a surprising performance yesterday with five straight birdies on the back nine, finishing with a tap-in birdie for a 5-under 66 that gave her the lead in the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open.

The bigger surprise were those behind her.

Hey, these kids can play.

In a U.S. Women’s Open dominated by talk about teenagers, 17-year-old Aree Song played with experience beyond her years with a 1-under 70, tied for the best score among the early starters with 43-year-old Rosie Jones.

As the sun began falling on a spectacular day, 15-year-old Morgan Pressel was quietly putting together a masterpiece of her own at Pumpkin Ridge. Scrambling for pars and slapping her leg when birdie putts hung on the edge, she was 3 under par with three holes to play.

Michelle Wie, at 13 perhaps the most heralded of the teenagers, was at 3 over par with three holes to play. The big Hawaiian played in the final group of the first LPGA major, the Nabisco Championship, and the others looked like they want a piece of that action here.

“Great, great talent,” McKay said of the 14 teenagers at Pumpkin Ridge, which the USGA believes to be a record. “They’re probably looking at Michelle and gaining confidence.”

McKay, a 28-year-old Scot, picked up confidence from hours on the practice range while working on her swing. Once it started to come together, there was no stopping her.

A sand wedge into 12 feet at No.—11. A wedge into 3 feet at the par-3 12th. Another wedge into 18 feet, and a sand wedge to 4 feet. She finished her birdie blitz with a 5-iron into 15 feet to get to 6 under, a score that stunned a gallery that already had seen its share of disasters on a wicked Witch Hollow course.

“I always wanted to give myself a chance at par,” McKay said. “Fortunately, I hit some greens and rolled in some birdie putts.”

McKay stumbled down the stretch, hitting a poor drive on the 16th that led to bogey, and missing the green on the 17th for another bogey.

But she ended in style on the 502-yard 18th, clearing the hazard with her second shot and leaving herself a delicate pitch from the left rough. The ball came out high and soft, landed on the front of the green and grazed the left lip before stopping 2 feet away.

After tapping in for her eighth birdie of the round, McKay turned to the crowd on both sides, then tossed her ball into the grandstand.

It was only the second time she had shot in the 60s at a Women’s Open, but McKay knows better than to get overly excited.

“It’s Thursday,” she said, holding out her arms to quell the optimism. “You can’t get too far ahead of yourself.”

No one can ever be too far ahead of Annika Sorenstam, who scrambled out of a tough start with three straight birdies. The best player in women’s golf closed on a disappointing note, three-putting from 30 feet for bogey and a 1-over 72.

That left her six shots out of the lead, and behind three teenagers.

“I’m tired,” Sorenstam said. “I was thinking on every shot.”

Song was known as Aree Wongluekiet — her mother’s Thai surname — when she played in the final group of an LPGA major at the 2000 Nabisco Championship as a 13-year-old, winding up in a tie for 10th.

“I think my time will come,” Song said.

Only now, she has company.

Among the early starters, 18-year-old Irene Cho was at even-par 71 and a couple of others were holding their own as conditions got even tougher in the afternoon.

While there is an extraordinary number of teenagers in the field, one constant about the U.S. Women’s Open is that trouble is waiting in the lips of the bunkers, in waist-high fescue, in water hazards and anytime someone winds up on the wrong side of the hole.

Laura Diaz was at 3 under and leading with three holes left when her tee shot landed next to the lip of a bunker, forcing her to chip out. A poor 3-wood continued the spiral toward double bogey, and a bogey on the ninth left her with a 71.

“The U.S. Open is the most roller-coaster golf that you probably will ever see,” she said.

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