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Inbee Park leads Lizette Salas by one at Kraft Nabisco

Salas, a former USC standout, shoots a 68 at Mission Hills Country Club in the first major of the year. She has fond memories of the tournament.

April 05, 2013|By Diane Pucin
  • Inbee Park hits her tee shot on the eighth hole.
Inbee Park hits her tee shot on the eighth hole. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Lizette Salas heard the cheers in the gallery and the shouts of "Fight On," coming from fans who knew her from her USC days.

The 23-year-old from Azusa, who learned golf from her father Ramon, a mechanic at the Azusa Greens Country Club, is in second place, one shot behind leader Inbee Park after two rounds of the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

Salas shot a four-under-par 68 Friday that gave her a two-day total of six-under 138.

Park, born in South Korea and now a resident of Murrieta, had a round of 67 that included six birdies and one bogey to put her at 137.

Michelle Wie, who shot a 70 Friday, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr and Jessica Korda were part of a nine-way tie for 12th at two under and are the next-highest American golfers behind Salas.

When she was young, Salas remembers coming to Rancho Mirage to cheer for star Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa. Salas' family roots are in Mexico and she said she recalls her excitement in watching Ochoa.

"I came out with a little banner for her that said, 'You can do it,' in Spanish and I had great memories from outside the ropes," Salas said.

"Now I'm trying to make some memories from inside the ropes."

Salas, who is in her second year on the LPGA Tour, said that being in contention two weeks ago at the Kia Classic — where she finished tied for sixth — is helping her this week.

"I actually like seeing my name…on the leaderboard and to be on it, on a consistent basis, is a positive for me," Salas said.

Had it not been for a missed five-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole Friday, Salas might have been on top of that board.

Instead, the top spot belonged to Park.

Park, the 2008 U.S. Open winner, took the lead with a birdie on the par-five 11th hole, hitting a sand wedge from about 70 yards to within a couple of feet of the hole on her third shot. Approach shots within 10 feet on the next two holes set up two more birdies.

She left her tee shot on the par-three 14th in the left bunker, resulting in her only bogey, but then rallied with pars on the last four holes.

"I putted really good out there," Park said. "Especially on the back nine. The wind picked up so it was tough, especially the last four holes. I made all pars on them so I'm really happy with that."

Creamer, who also shot a 68 Friday, spoke in a voice made husky and raw from both an illness and grief. On Sunday, Creamer's grandmother, Florence Stanton, passed away after suffering from Parkinson's disease.

"We were very close," Creamer said. "She was such a huge fan of mine and she would always come out here, to the West Coast events. It's never easy losing someone you're close to, especially your grandmother."

Creamer, from Pleasanton, Calif., said her grandmother was full of fun and health-conscious. "Because of that, the Parkinson's was such a shame," Creamer said. "But I think that's why she lasted as long as she did."

But even in her grief, Creamer said she never considered not playing this week.

"My grandma would want me out here," Creamer said. "No doubt."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

Twitter: @mepucin

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