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Rough time at Cherry Hills: Sorenstam struggles late

Saturday, June 25, 2005

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. -- The confident pursuit of a Grand Slam gave way to frustration as Annika Sorenstam tried to make up ground and instead went backward in the U.S. Women's Open.

First came a tee shot into the rough and a dubious decision to go for the green. That was followed by another bad tee shot into rough so deep she had to lay up twice on the par-5 17th. Her shocking finish ended with a conservative play off the 18th tee, leaving her a 4-wood up the hill toward the green.

Three holes. Three bogeys.

When the damage was done, Sorenstam found herself six shots behind Nicole Perrot of Chile, a surprising leader on a Friday filled with wild swings of momentum.

"Sometimes you just can't analyze things," Sorenstam said after a 4-over 75. "You've got to drop it and move on."

Perrot, a 21-year-old from a country of just 58 private golf courses, shot her second straight round of 1-under 70 by saving par with a 10-foot putt on the 14th and staying clear of trouble down the stretch. At 2-under 140, she was the only player under par after two rounds at Cherry Hills.

The final group will not be without some star power.

While Sorenstam showed she is not invincible, 15-year-old Michelle Wie came of age by salvaging pars in a scrappy round for a 1-over 73 that left her at 142 and in the final pairing with Perrot.

"I could have shot some ridiculous numbers today, but I kept my head and I made a couple of good par putts, and I think that kept me going," Wie said.

Lorena Ochoa, who didn't make a par on the back nine until the 17th hole, closed with a bogey for a 3-under 68 and joined Wie at 142. Rachel Hetherington (69), Angela Stanford (74) and 18-year-old Paula Creamer (69) were another shot behind.

No one had a day quite like Creamer.

She was 6 over through four holes when she played her next nine holes in 8 under par, including an eagle on the par-4 10th by holing out from the fairway. Despite playing with an upset stomach, she found herself tied for the lead.

She gave it back with three straight bogeys -- two of them three-putts that nearly brought her to tears -- and only avoided a fourth bogey by making a 25-foot putt on the 18th hole.

"If someone told me I'd be in this position after two rounds, I'd take it," Creamer said.

If anyone said Sorenstam would bogey her last three holes, finish six shots behind and run her streak to 21 consecutive par 5s without a birdie, they might have been accused of breathing too much mile-high air.

Visibly rattled after she finished her round, she was asked whether she could still win.

"Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah," Sorenstam said, almost offended by the question. "Thirty-six holes is a lot of golf left. Six strokes is nothing. I have to play good golf, there's no doubt about it. But I'm a fighter. I'm not going to give up until the end. There's a long way to go."

And she has a lot of ground to make up.

Not many people know Perrot, who had never shot better than 78 in two previous trips to the U.S. Women's Open, and has never finished higher than seventh in her two years on the LPGA Tour. But she won the U.S. Junior Girls four years ago, and nearly won the U.S. Women's Amateur later that summer.

She makes an aggressive pass at the ball and shows steely nerves over her putts. Perrot is not willing to look too far ahead to the weekend, especially with 20 players within five shots of the lead.

"You just keep playing shot by shot," she said. "You get in your moment. You have to accept it. That's the key to the sport, is learning to accept what happens."

Wie, coming off a runner-up finish at the LPGA Championship, has not played in the final group of a major since she was 13 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship two years ago.

But she looks more comfortable than ever, having finished her first round Friday morning with two good pars and a tap-in birdie on the 17th that gave her a 69 and a share of the lead.

She spent the next five hours trying to hang on by the seat of her shorts, and it was nearly as impressive.

"I could have shot some ridiculous numbers today, but I kept my head and I made a couple of good par putts, and I think that kept me going," Wie said.

The kid might have come of age on a sunny day that turned gloomy, causing another delay by storms. This was a round that could have gotten away from her, and frustration was evident after missing four straight putts inside 12 feet at the beginning of her round.

But she saved par with putts of 5 and 8 feet, twice lagged putts from across the green to tap-in range, and kept herself at even par, enough to get into the last group at a major.

Is Wie good enough to win?

"I feel like I'm ready," Wie said. "If I never think I'm ready, then I can never win. Always think positively."

Laura Davies just went along for a Wie ride. The former Women's Open champion polished off an 84 in the morning -- her worst score ever in this championship -- and went for broke on every shot in posting an 81 in the second round.

Still, she was impressed with what she saw.

"She beat me by 23 strokes, that's all I can say," Davies said. "She doesn't play as aggressively as I thought she would. Obviously, the team strategy is not going for the par 5s. Personally, I'd like to see her lashing all around the course. But that's the golf fan in me."

Davies was headed home, but she offered one last wish for the final round.

"Michelle and Annika would be the dream ticket," she said.

Sorenstam has some work to do for that to happen, let alone pursue her challenge of winning all four majors.

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