- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. — With every fairway she missed and every putt that grazed the edge of the cup, Annika Sorenstam yesterday slipped farther away from surprising leader Nicole Perrot in her quest for the Grand Slam.

And with every par Michelle Wie salvaged out of a scrappy round at Cherry Hills, the 15-year-old phenom showed she just might be ready to contend for the U.S. Women’s Open.

The biggest event in women’s golf brought solid play from Perrot and a shocking finish from Sorenstam, who bogeyed her final three holes for a 4-over 75 to fall six shots behind the 21-year-old from Chile.

Perrot, a former U.S. Junior Girls champion who has played only two years on the LPGA Tour, was flawless amid a wild mix of birdies and bogeys around her, posting her second straight 1-under 70 to remain the only player under par at Cherry Hills.

Perrot was at 2-under 140 and will play in the final group today with Wie, who kept her composure with a string of pars and finished with a 7-iron into 18 inches for a hard-earned round of 2-over 73, leaving her just two shots behind.

Lorena Ochoa didn’t make a par on the back nine until the 17th hole, then dropped a shot on the tough 18th for a 68 that also left her at even-par 142.

The most bizarre round belonged to 18-year-old Paula Creamer, who was 6 over through four holes and appeared headed home for the weekend. Despite an upset stomach, she played the next nine holes at 8 under, including an eagle from the 10th fairway, to take the lead.

Just like that, she gave it back with three straight bogeys, only to save par with a 25-foot putt on the 18th for a 69 to finish at 143 along with Angela Stanford and Rachel Hetherington of Australia.

Sorenstam was hardly ready to concede.

Visibly rattled after she finished her round, she was asked whether she could still win.

“Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah,” Sorenstam said, almost offended by the question. “Thirty-six holes is a lot of golf left. Six strokes is nothing. I have to play good golf. There’s no doubt about it. But I’m a fighter.”

Perrot has never finished higher than seventh on the LPGA Tour this year, and she had never shot better than 78 in two previous trips to the U.S. Women’s Open.

It sure didn’t look that way at Cherry Hills, with her aggressive pass at the ball and steely putting. Perrot birdied the first two holes on the back nine to take a lead she never relinquished and holed a 10-footer for par on the 14th to escape her only serious trouble.

“It’s the U.S. Open. You never know what can happen,” Perrot said.

Sorenstam took 35 putts on greens that got more bumpy as the round wore on, but the most stunning part of her round — not to mention her run through the majors — came on the par 5s. The longest and straightest driver on the LPGA Tour, she has yet to make birdie on the par 5s at Cherry Hills.

Worse yet, she now has gone 21 consecutive par 5s without a birdie, dating to the first one she played two weeks ago in the LPGA Championship, which she won by three shots.

Sorenstam left Cherry Hills perplexed by her game but not willing to dwell on it.

“It’s just one of those days,” she said. “Sometimes you can analyze things. You’ve got to drop it and move on.”

She desperately needs to move up from a tie for 22nd on a course that does yield birdies but has trouble waiting on every shot that misses the fairway.


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