Trio fashions lead of 1


Think Annika Sorenstam was upset after spinning her wheels over the last five holes yesterday and allowing Natalie Gulbis, Laura Diaz and Laura Davies to pass her as the McDonald's LPGA Championship began a new era at Bulle Rock?

No chance.

Even though her 4-under-par 68 was bettered by a trio of 67s in a first round marked by a rain delay and an eclectic leader board that ranged from Davies, 41, to Michelle Wie, 15, Sorenstam is perfectly positioned to become the first to win this event three straight times.

In each of the last two years, the 34-year-old Swede trailed after the first round but took control in the second, a pattern she hopes to continue today.

"Today [yesterday] is probably 10 percent of the tournament," said Sorenstam, whose inner dialogue has her talking to herself instead of her playing partners. "I have a lot of mind games I have to play with myself to keep in control. It's only Thursday, be calm. There's two people inside me, one calm, and one excited.

"The calm one won today."

Sorenstam set a tour record with her 12th straight round in the 60s, eclipsing the mark she posted in 2002. Her score was something old, the setting something new, as the LPGA moved south after 11 years in Wilmington, Del., and set a first-round attendance record of 16,700.

Much of that gallery spent a muggy morning following the group that included Sorenstam, Gulbis and Gloria Park. A brief thundershower - a staple of the five-day forecast - disrupted play for 52 minutes in the afternoon, but it didn't cool off Davies, Diaz and some of the game's young guns.

Sorenstam led for much of the morning, until Gulbis, 22, closed with five straight birdies on the Harford County course, which is playing at 6,488 yards, par 72.

Diaz, a 30-year-old native New Yorker 18 months removed from ankle surgery, was the only player to get to 6-under, but then she bogeyed No. 17. Davies, the gregarious Britishwoman, birdied six of the last 12 holes, rolling in a 30-footer on No. 18.

Joining Sorenstam at 4-under were Sung Ah Yim, a 21-year-old from South Korea; Tina Fischer, 34, from Germany, and Paula Creamer, the 18-year-old who three weeks ago became the tour's youngest winner ever. Three players were at 3-under, the most notable being Wie, the first amateur to receive an invitation to play in the LPGA Championship.

At the other end of the seasoning spectrum, Karrie Webb came in with a 74, but completed all of the requirements for enshrinement into the LPGA Tour and World Golf halls of fame. Davies can get there with one more major championship.

"I'm playing well," Davies said, "but there's a certain Sorenstam up there."

Davies has four major titles in her resume, but the last came in 1996. While Diaz's best major finish was a runner-up in this event four years ago and Gulbis has never finished in the top 10 at a major, Sorenstam has won four of the last nine, the most recent being the Kraft Nabisco two months ago.

A victory this weekend would leave her halfway to an unprecedented Grand Slam. With five victories in seven starts thus far this season, she has 61 for her career.

Starting on No. 10 and completing the round on No. 9, Sorenstam went out and came back in 34 in a bogey-free round. She hit 13 of 14 fairways, but only 13 of 18 greens in regulation, as her approach "misses" usually stopped on the fringe.

Gulbis had a trio of three-putts, the last on the par-3 No. 3, but the only one her split-handed grip missed the rest of the way was an eagle attempt on No. 8. Her fifth straight birdie putt was never in doubt, finishing the first of the 67s that seemed sensational, given the hype surrounding the move to Bulle Rock.

Twenty-nine in a 149-player field broke par.

"My caddie and I thought 8-under would win this," Gulbis said. "I pretty much thought anything under par would be a pretty good round."

Hole of the day: No. 8

This was the easiest hole in the first round and one that surrendered two of the day's four eagles. One of them helped Tina Fischer finish 4-under. Seven of the first 10 on the leader board birdied the 481-yard No. 8, and among that group, only Paula Creamer and Annika Sorenstam got pars.

Sorenstam's was particularly galling; she bombed her drive 290 yards but yanked her approach deep and left. After that drive, she was thinking eagle. If she had gotten it, she would be leading the field at 6-under.

Leader board

First-round leaders ...

Natalie Gulbis 67

Laura Diaz 67

Laura Davies 67

... and selected followers

Annika Sorenstam 68

Sung Ah Yim 68

Paula Creamer 68

Tina Fischer 68

Angela Stanford 69

Michelle Wie 69

Aree Song 70

Liselotte Neumann 70

Gloria Park 71

Hilary Lunke 71

Heather Bowie 72

Rosie Jones 72

Tina Barrett 73

Beth Daniel 73

Meg Mallon 74

Karrie Webb 74

Cristie Kerr 74

Se Ri Pak 75

Juli Inkster 75

Complete scores, 8F

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