Sunday, June 13, 2004

Sorenstam grabs halfway LPGA Championship lead

The Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. - Facing a marathon finish in the rain-delayed LPGA Championship, Annika Sorenstam made sure she at least had a head start.

Sorenstam missed a half-dozen good birdie chances on the front nine Saturday at DuPont Country Club, then reeled off four straight birdies that carried her to a 4-under 67 and a one-stroke lead over Juli Inkster and Jennifer Rosales going into the final day.

But she is only halfway home to defending her title and winning a seventh career major. Rain washed out the second round Friday, so Sorenstam and everyone else will have to play 36 holes today to decide the winner.

"I love being in the lead, but it's a long way to go," she said.

She has a chance to repeat in more ways than one. Because of rain last year, Sorenstam had to play 34 holes Sunday - one of those in a playoff - to win the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

The way Sorenstam is playing, it could be a long day for those chasing her. She had a birdie putt on every hole, only one of them from just off the green, and says her swing feels better than ever. The only glitch was a three-putt bogey on the final hole from 40 feet that left her at 7-under 135.

Sorenstam will spend the final 36 holes with an old nemesis.

Inkster, who made up a two-shot deficit against Sorenstam to win the U.S. Women's Open at Prairie Dunes two years ago, also found a groove with her swing and started to fearlessly fire at flags. She shot a 5-under 66, polishing off her round with a big drive and a 7-wood to the front edge of the par-5 ninth.

"I like my position," said Inkster, who finished her round as Sorenstam was just getting started. "I have a chance on Sunday, and that's pretty much what you want to do."

Inkster played with Rosales, who recovered from two bogeys on her first three holes to shoot 70.

If a comeback is available, who better than Reilley Rankin? The LPGA Tour rookie, who was seriously injured taking a 70-foot jump into a lake five years ago, had a 67 and was at 5-under 137.

"Every step means a lot to me, no matter what tournament it is," Rankin said.

Grace Park, going after the second leg of the Grand Slam, had a 70 and was three shots behind.

Sorenstam can't win the Grand Slam this year, so she's going after the next best thing - three straight majors.

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