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Grand Slam Shot May Be All Wet

Sorenstam has a 76 and trails co-leaders Pepper and Lee by nine. Wie stays in contention with a 72.

March 27, 2004|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

It was difficult to tell what made Annika Sorenstam the angriest Friday at Mission Hills Country Club.

Was it her near-six-hour round? "Outrageous," she said.

Was it the eight-iron out of the bunker that she hit into the water at 18? "Obviously, that was not the right choice."

Or was it the four-over-par 76 that put her nine shots behind at the halfway point of the Kraft Nabisco Championship with only 36 holes to try to catch up? "That's my only hope."

Play was suspended at Rancho Mirage because of darkness with two golfers still on the course, but that didn't mean much to Sorenstam. Starting five shots off the lead, she got no closer to her goal of winning the first leg of what she hoped would be a sweep of this year's majors, not with the gusty breezes and swirling winds that often took golf balls on wild adventure rides.

The wind didn't seem to bother Dottie Pepper much, but she's accustomed to bad luck after trying to come back from injuries and illness the last two years. Pepper, a two-time winner of the Kraft Nabisco, managed a two-under 70 in the difficult conditions to share the lead at six-under 138 along with Jung Yeon Lee, a 25-year-old South Korean, who finished her 69 just before play was suspended.

Karrie Webb shot a 71 and is tied for third with Wendy Doolan, who had a 69, and first-round leader Aree Song, who shot a 73. Rosie Jones also had a 73 and is sixth.

Fourteen-year-old Michelle Wie is in a group of three tied for seventh at 141 after she shot a 72. Grace Park, who had a 69, is also there, along with Mi-Hyun Kim, who had a 70.

Wie, whose group was put on the clock on the back nine, was proud of her round of par golf, considering how tough it was to keep the ball under control. "It could have been a lot worse," she said.

As far as difficult conditions go, Pepper, 39, has everyone beat. She missed nearly all of 2002 because of shoulder surgery, then was sick for most of 2003 with a misdiagnosed sinus condition that she finally had corrected at the Mayo Clinic.

Besides that, winning this tournament made Pepper sick. She said she got walking pneumonia after taking the traditional leap in the lake, the victory plunge, in 1999.

"I didn't play for four weeks after I dove in there," she said.

But if Pepper hangs on to win again, she's not going to do anything different.

"I'll jump if that's the case and worry about starting antibiotics on Monday," she said. "I hope we have that problem."

Sorenstam's problems were enough to put her grand slam plans in serious jeopardy. She was already two over for the day when she reached the 18th tee, which had been moved up 46 yards to 485 yards. But because the wind was blowing straight into the players' faces, laying up was the only play.

Sorenstam drove into the right rough, then her second shot found a bunker. The ball was in the sand, but she took her stance on the grass. She said she was between clubs and she chose eight-iron and sent the ball into the water in front of the island green.

After a penalty stroke, her fifth shot was safely on and she two-putted for a double-bogey seven.

"It was a tough day, that's for sure," Sorenstam said.

Pepper's round was steady. Even though she didn't make a birdie after the 10th, where she hit a wedge to 25 feet and made the putt, she also had only one bogey, at the 12th.

Webb, who finished with 10 consecutive pars, has won only three times in the last two years while Sorenstam has won 18 times, but she feels confident after working hard in the off-season.

"I don't know if I'm stronger; I'm probably a little bit fitter," Webb said. "I don't know, I probably would lose the same arm wrestle match I would have last year. I've done some strength training, but all in all just to feel better."

As for feeling better, Sorenstam signed her scorecard and put the 18th hole in her rearview mirror as quickly as she could. Maybe that will work. Or maybe she will call upon the time she came from 10 shots down to Pat Hurst on the last day to win the Office Depot in 2002.

"I've come back from further behind before," she said.

So she thinks she still has a chance?

"I'm not letting it go," she said.

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