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Sorenstam takes lead with 65 at Shoprite Classic

June 27, 1997

SOMERS POINT, N.J. (AP) _ Annika Sorenstam made 3s on seven of the first eight holes Friday and shot a 6-under-par 65 for a one-stroke lead over Caroline Blaylock in the first round of the Shoprite Classic.

Sorenstam, who has already won four times this year on the LPGA tour and has eight top-three finishes in 12 starts, was nearly perfect as she made six birdies and an eagle, faltering only when she plunked her second shot on No. 13 into the water and made a double bogey.

``I hit it really fat.″ she said about the errant 5-iron. ``I had 168 yards to the green and I hit it about 70 yards.″

It was a rare mistake for the 26-year-old Swede who in two weeks will be trying to become the first woman to win the U.S. Open three consecutive times.

Shooting a 65 despite a double bogey was a clear message of how dominant Sorenstam has been this year. It was her lowest score of the year and the 19th time in 45 rounds this year she has been in the 60s.

Blaylock, playing in the penultimate group of the day, birdied the last two holes to move into second place alone. She is a professional but not a member of the LPGA tour and got into the tournament on a sponsor’s exemption.

Jane Geddes, Patty Sheehan, Donna Andrews and Vickie Odegard were two strokes back at 67. Six players were at 68 and defending champion Dottie Pepper was in a group at 69. Karrie Webb and Laura Davies both shot 71.

Geddes, trying for her first victory since 1994, had a chance to share second place alone but made a bogey on the last hole when she missed the green with her 6-iron approach shot and then chipped poorly to 20 feet.

``That’s getting to be a little bugaboo,″ Geddes said about getting the last of her 11 tour victories three years ago. ``I’d like to post a win. It’ll come in time.″

Geddes took advantage of the two closing par-5s on the front nine to make birdies and get her round started.

``If you get a birdie in the first seven holes _ great,″ Geddes said after posting a 67. ``But when you get to No. 8, that’s when your round kind of starts.″

The third through the seventh holes played directly into a stiff wind off the nearby Atlantic Ocean and the closing two par-5s on the front nine played downwind.

``It was definitely a one-club wind out there,″ she said.

Sheehan also made birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 to turn the front nine at 3-under-par, then made two more birdies and a bogey on the back nine for her 67.

``I’ve been struggling with my driver all year,″ Sheehan said. ``The key to my game is getting the ball in the fairway and I did that today.″

Andrews, playing late in the day, birdied No. 17 to get to 4-under.

Sorenstam made birdies on Nos. 1, 3, 5 and 7 then hit a 5-wood to 20 feet on the par-5 eighth hole and made the eagle putt.

The only hole in her first eight that was not a 3 was on No. 6, where she made a par 4.

``And I almost made a 3 there,″ she said. ``I hit the lip from 7 feet.″

Sorenstam bounced back from her double bogey with birdies on No. 15, where she willed the 26-foot putt in with a nifty leg kick and greeted its disappearance into the cup with an emphatic pumped fist, and No. 16, where she made a 6-footer.

She made a testy 10-foot downhill putt on the last hole to preserve her 65.

``It’s a new day tomorrow,″ she said. ``I’m not going to change anything. It seems like it is working.″

Saturday may be a new day, but Sorenstam’s play is beginning to look agonizingly familiar to her fellow LPGA players.

DIVOTS: Geddes, who at age 37 is leading the tour in driving distance, gives all the credit to her equipment, the Callaway Biggest Big Bertha driver and the Bridgestone Dyna-wing ball. ``I think my equipment has added 20 to 30 yards to my game,″ she said. ... Sorenstam’s last LPGA event was the Michelob Light Classic a month ago, which she won. ... Becky Iverson made a hole-in-one on the 125-yard fourth hole with a sand wedge. ... 20-year-old two-time U.S. Amateur champion Kelli Kuehne shot a 73 in her second LPGA event as a pro.

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