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It's a Game of Inches for Sorenstam

She has to take a drop from under a bush but also makes a short putt for a birdie on 18, leaving her in a three-way tie at Bighorn.

October 14, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

After missing a three-foot putt to bogey the next-to-last hole Friday at Bighorn Golf Club, Annika Sorenstam found a putting distance more to her liking at the 18th green. Two inches.

That's birdie range, all right, which turned out to be fortunate for Sorenstam, who struggled to a one-under-par 71 but still owned a share of the lead halfway through the Samsung World Championship at Palm Desert.

With 13 years logged in the pros, Sorenstam is savvy enough not to complain about any putts from kick-in range.

"It was just up and down all day long," she said.

A case in point was the 449-yard par-four ninth, where Sorenstam knocked her tee shot to the left, under a bush, took an unplayable lie after yet another in a series of official's rulings, and turned in a double bogey.

"I hit some brilliant shots at times and some really poor ones," Sorenstam said.

She wasn't alone. In any event, it's crowded at the top, where Sorenstam is bunched with Paula Creamer and Sophie Gustafson at six-under 138.

Creamer, who just launched a new line of designer sunglasses, liked what she saw at the 18th. That's where she knocked a sand wedge to six feet and rolled in a birdie putt, her red, white and blue ribbons as colorful as her golf game that produced a four-under 68.

Creamer won four times worldwide as a rookie last year, twice on the LPGA Tour, but has been stopped cold this year by a lingering wrist injury, plus problems with her short game. But she said her attitude is much improved the last couple of months and she doesn't put too much pressure on herself to excel because she knows better.

"My head gets in the way a little bit," she said.

Gustafson, who had a two-shot lead after the turn, played the back side in one over and wound up with a 70 that could have been a lot lower.

No one went lower than Sherri Steinhauer, whose 67 was not only the best of the day but also the completion of a total about-face from her start Thursday.

Steinhauer was three over after nine holes and she's eight under since, after making a change in her putting setup.

"It worked ... hopefully it will keep on working," Steinhauer said.

Only one shot off the lead, Steinhauer is alone in fourth, a shot ahead of Karrie Webb and first-round co-leader Lorena Ochoa.

Further behind is Michelle Wie, who is tied for 15th with Natalie Gulbis after a four-birdie, two-bogey, one-double-bogey round of 72.

Wie, who hit only seven fairways and had a double bogey, a quadruple bogey and an eagle in the first round, wobbled at the start Friday when she doubled the par-five third hole. Wie hit her drive right into a bush and took an unplayable lie, eventually missing a nine-foot bogey putt.

"A very interesting hole," Wie said.

She said she knew it was Friday the 13th. "Scary," she said.

Still, Wie was pleased she birdied the 14th, the same hole where she made an eight in the first round.

And even though she's eight shots back with 36 holes to go, Wie felt she's one low round away from making a move, and said her game is getting closer.

"I just have to get the misses back on the fairway," she said. "I feel like if I make a couple of putts, stay in the fairways and don't call a rules officials, I'm doing good.

"No more bushes, just fairways and greens."

The players near the top were all about numbers -- their ages -- Sorenstam at 36, Gustafson at 32 and Steinhauer at 43. Creamer is the exception at 20, but for the supposedly kid-powered LPGA, there is more experience than youth in control right now.

Sorenstam said that it's more about the competition than the identity of the competitors.

"I'm as competitive as it gets," she said. "I love when you have to hit that particular shot the last few holes, you have to make a putt to either win or force a playoff. I love that feeling. I think that's what's taken me where I am today.

"By the end of the day, it's not really who I'm playing, it's just a competition. Now we're seeing a different generation. I think it's good for women's golf, but for me, in the end, it doesn't matter who it is."

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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