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Sorenstam Getting French Opposition

Meunier-Lebouc has a three-shot advantage over two-time defending champion at Mission Hills. Wie, 13, is only four back after 66.

March 30, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Patricia Meunier-Lebouc has had a front-row seat for greatness during her last five competitive rounds -- an up-close lesson on how to manage a golf tournament from world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam.

Today she finds out how much she has learned.

Meunier-Lebouc and Sorenstam will play together today in the final group of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, marking the sixth consecutive tournament round they have played together.

Meunier-Lebouc shot two-under 70 Saturday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage and has a three-day total of eight-under 208 for a three-shot lead.

Sorenstam shot 71 in the third round and has some catching up to do if she is to become the first player to win three consecutive Kraft Nabisco Championships. Joining them in the final group today will be 13-year-old sensation Michelle Wie, who created a buzz by tying the best round of the tournament with a 66. She is alone in third at four under for the tournament.

Two behind Wie at two under are long-hitting Laura Davies and Se Ri Pak, each of whom is a Nabisco victory short of a career grand slam. Lorena Ochoa shot 42 on the back nine, finished with a 74 and is tied with Juli Inkster at one under. Inkster shot 66 Saturday.

Meunier-Lebouc and Sorenstam played together in the final two rounds last week in Phoenix, where they tied for third, and have been paired together for all three rounds this week. They also played together in the final round of the Tour Championship last year, a tournament Sorenstam won.

Playing with Sorenstam, a 42-time winner on the LPGA Tour, usually means you are playing well, but to the Frenchwoman, the previous pairings have all been pop quizzes in preparation for this final exam.

"It's not the same as the first few days we played," Meunier-Lebouc said. "Playing with her the last day of the first major of the year is unbelievable, even more with a three-shot lead."

She added, "Now we've got to get to ... I wouldn't say serious golf because it was serious golf already. But I'm not looking at it the same way. I'm going to play my own game really and not focus on what she's doing."

This will be the third consecutive year in the final group at the Nabisco for Sorenstam. Last year, she was tied with Webb and Liselotte Neumann entering the final round, shot 68 and won by one. In 2001, she trailed Rachel Teske by one shot after three rounds, shot 69 and won by three.

"Three shots is three shots, but anything can happen on this golf course," Sorenstam said. "I know I can shoot low and if I do, things will take care of themselves."

Meunier-Lebouc threatened to put the tournament out of reach when she took a five-shot lead with a birdie on No. 11, but she made bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16, leaving a bit of breathing room for Sorenstam, who had four birdies and three bogeys for a second consecutive roller-coaster round.

Wie, an eighth-grader from Hawaii playing on a sponsor's exemption, will be the second 13-year-old to play in the final group of the Nabisco in three years. Aree Song played with Karrie Webb and Dottie Pepper in 2000. She shot 75 that Sunday and finished 10th.

"I didn't even know what I was shooting," Wie said. "I just thought, 'I've got to make one more birdie,' and I kept going."

It could have been better. Through the first three rounds. Wie has missed several short birdie putts, including one on the 18th hole Saturday.

"It's killing me right now," she said. "I could have been second, I think."

The player who is second, however, doesn't intend to back off. Sorenstam knows it won't be easy to overtake Meunier-Lebouc, a five-time winner on the European Tour and winner of one LPGA tournament who is looking for her first major championship, but she is also a student of LPGA history and knows exactly what is at stake.

Nobody has won a major three consecutive times since Patty Berg won the Titleholders in 1937-39. Sorenstam, who often plays with history as her only opponent, plans to use the record book as motivation.

"She might be hungry," Sorenstam said. "But I'm starving."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Leaderboard

*--* Third-round scores from the $1.6-million Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills CC in Rancho Mirage -- Par 72 P. Meunier-Lebouc 70-68-70--208 -8 Annika Sorenstam 68-72-71--211 -5 Michelle Wie 72-74-66--212 -4 Laura Davies 70-75-69--214 -2 Se Ri Pak 71-72-71--214 -2 Juli Inkster 75-74-66--215 -1 Lorena Ochoa 71-70-74--215 -1 Laura Diaz 76-71-69--216 E Jennifer Rosales 74-70-72--216 E

*--*

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