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Three Share First-Round LPGA Lead

April 2, 1999

LINCOLN, Calif. (AP) _ Losing Dottie Pepper weakened an already soft field at the Longs Drugs Challenge.

Only five of 20 players on the current money list teed off in difficult conditions Thursday. The field was weakened even further when Pepper, who last week captured the Nabisco Dinah Shore with a record score, withdrew from the tournament with the flu.

Despite a day that featured gusty winds and chilly temperatures at Twelve Bridges Golf Club, Michelle McGann, Hiromi Kobayashi and Cindy Figg-Currier managed to shoot 4-under-par 68 to share the lead.

``The wind affected club selection,″ Figg-Currier said. ``There were a couple of times I thought it would help and it didn’t. I had a good caddy to tell me where (the wind) was. This course has a lot of elevation. I can imagine it must have been real cold this morning. It wasn’t too bad in the afternoon.″

Pepper, the second-leading money-winner this season, did not play in Wednesday’s pro-am. After seeing a doctor Thursday morning, she decided to pull out of the tournament.

McGann, who started her round on the back side, survived a double-bogey on No. 16. Her round included two birdies on the front nine and three more on the back. She also had an eagle on the par-5 No. 12, hitting a 3-wood to the green and sinking a 20-foot putt.

``Overall, it was a good day for me,″ McGann said. ``I drove the ball OK and made some good putts.″

Kobayashi experienced a more steady round. She started with a birdie at No. 1 and later birdied No. 8. The Japan native then made a series of short putts on the back side, recording three more birdies to go 5-under. Her lone bogey resulted from a misfired 6-iron on No. 17.

``I was hitting the ball good from last week,″ Kobayashi said. ``I was happy today. I hit it where I wanted to.″

Playing in the afternoon, where scores were generally higher, Figg-Currier had four birdies, plus an eagle, offsetting a pair of bogeys. She holed out a chipped shot from 122 yards for the eagle on the No. 16, a short par-4.

``I was able to go at the flag and I’m glad it went in,″ Figg-Currier said. ``That’s a tricky hole to putt.″

Juli Inkster and Mhari McKay were both one shot back of the leaders at 69. There were six players tied at 70, including veteran Sally Little.

``I thought it would warm up, but it never did,″ Inkster said. ``I’m running out of turtlenecks.″

Defending champion Donna Andrews finished with a 74. Annika Sorenstam, who won the tournament in 1997, had an uneven round with four birdies and three bogeys, carding a 71.

Carin Koch, who led the tournament with a first-round 66 a year ago, shot a 76 Thursday. Pepper’s replacement, Michelle Dobek, didn’t fare well, shooting the day’s high round with an 86.

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