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Sorenstam runs ahead


Laura Davies had the early lead in the clubhouse and the prediction of the day at Bulle Rock Golf Course.

"Annika just got to about 6 [-under-par], and probably will be around 10 by the end of day, but at least I can see her," Davies said early yesterday afternoon, shortly after finishing her second round in the $1.8 million McDonald's LPGA Championship.

Asked a few minutes later if she was joking, Davies smiled.

"That's not a joke, that's a fact. I'll be more surprised if she's not 9-, 10-under," said Davies, who was at 7-under-par 137 after shooting a 2-under-par 70. "She hasn't had a bogey yet this week. She's already at 6. She's starting to get on my nerves."

Davies, a two-time champion of this event when it was played at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., proved prophet and pundit. When play ended last night in Havre de Grace, Sorenstam had shot a 5-under-par 67 to move two strokes ahead of Davies, and three up on first-round leader Natalie Gulbis.

Five others - Marisa Baena of Colombia, Il Mi Chung of South Korea, Tina Fischer of Germany and Americans Moira Dunn and Laura Diaz - were four strokes behind. Amateur phenom Michelle Wie was five strokes back after shooting a 1-under-par 71. Wie, 15, is tied with Nicole Perrot of Chile.

As usual, Sorenstam was undaunted at what Davies had accomplished.

"I felt like it was a score that I could reach and pass," said Sorenstam, who after making her only bogey on the par-5 11th took the lead with birdies on the par-4 14th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th. "I'd like to be up there by the end of the day."

That Sorenstam isn't quite running away with this tournament as she did during her 10-shot win in Atlanta last month seems to be a huge lift for Davies, who is looking for her first LPGA Tour victory in four years and would qualify for the tour's Hall of Fame if she won here this week.

"There's no point turning up every week if you don't think you can win," said Davies, 41, who has won 20 LPGA events and four majors, starting with her breakthrough victory at the 1987 U.S. Women's Open as a relative unknown from England. "I always come trying to win."

Rejuvenated by a more aggressive putting style that is reminiscent of her early years on tour, Davies still plays the same way she did when she was the leading money-winner more than a decade ago. Eschewing conventional tees for a simple mound of chopped up grass, Davies whacks first and worries later.

Yesterday's round was a confluence of big drives and errant tee shots, chip-ins and chunks, birdie putts and three-putts. Starting on the back nine, Davies got to 8-under with an eagle-2 on the par-4 16th - she chipped in from about 20 feet after nearly driving the green - before she backed up a stroke.

It is also a flashback to the way Davies used to play when she was No. 1. Davies was a sure bet for the Hall of Fame when she won two majors, including the LPGA Championship, in 1996. She won five LPGA events since, a few more overseas, and needed to win two regular events or one more major to qualify.

"I really want to do it," she said yesterday. "If I don't, it would mean I played the last sort of eight to 10 years of my career without winning two tournaments. The thought of that is horrifying. It's not something that worries me, but maybe in five or six years time, then I'll be worried. I'll be panicking, but at this point it's no panic."

Asked what has caused her game to slip, Davies said it's simple.

"Just the putting," she said. "People don't believe me. I ring home and tell my family I'm playing really well, and they see I finished 28th or 60th. The putting is everything. I'm obsessed with putting."

And, in a joking way, with Sorenstam. Would Davies really tell her six-time European Solheim Cup teammate that all those victories - 61 after last week's win in New Jersey, and five in seven events this season - are starting to get tiresome?

"You can't really say that to her, can you?" Davies said. "I'll just punch her or something."

Davies will get that chance today, when they are paired in the final group. The pressure on Davies to win entrance into the Hall of Fame could be enormous, but so could the spotlight on Sorenstam to become the first player in history to win the same major three years in a row.

Not to mention get halfway to a Grand Slam.

"Somebody can win their first tournament. Somebody can win a major for the first time, but goals that I have, that's what's so unique that we have a tournament where so much is at stake," Sorenstam said.

"That's what it's all about. It doesn't matter who you ask. This tournament is going to have a really important meaning."

Leader board

Second-round leader ... Annika Sorenstam 68-67--135 ... and selected followers

Laura Davies 67-70--137 Natalie Gulbis 67-71--138 Laura Diaz 67-72--139 Michelle Wie 69-71--140 Liselotte Neumann 70-71--141 Paula Creamer 68-73--141 Complete scores, 8C

Hole of the day: No. 11

They can erect a plaque at No. 11: Annika Got A Bogey Here. Laura Davies, who has rarely met a par-5 she couldn't reach in two, used the adjectives "bloody" and "stupid" to describe the 596-yard hole, which has been the toughest at the LPGA Championship. Marisa Baena and Moira Dunn collected two of yesterday's nine birdies. Its victims even included Sorenstam, who leads the tour in driving distance. When her 9-iron approach bounced off the green and she couldn't save par after chipping to 10 feet, it ended a string of 54 straight bogey-free holes, stretching back to No. 10 in the third round at last week's ShopRite Classic.

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