Appleby upset with his 66

Friday, March 30, 2007
Lorena Ochoa hit from the bunker on the second hole during the first round of the LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship on Thursday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. (Chris Carlson~The Associated Press)

Appleby said he failed to convert too many chances Thursday.

Stuart Appleby was back on top of the leaderboard at the Houston Open on Thursday with the same first-round score that propelled him to a six-shot victory last year.

He wasn't as excited about his 6-under 66 this time, because he knows he isn't playing as well as he was last year.

Kevin Sutherland and rookie Johnson Wagner, who was born in Amarillo, also shot 66s to share the first-round lead in Humble, Texas. Like Appleby, they teed off in the morning, before gusty wind kicked up and made the 7,457-yard Tournament Course at Redstone more challenging.

"The course is there to be had," Appleby said. "It's not a difficult course in no wind."

Texans Justin Leonard, Jeff Maggert and Bob Estes were in a group of six players one shot back after 67s. Estes had the lowest round of the afternoon starters.

Appleby hasn't won since Houston last year and has only one top-30 finish in seven starts in 2007. The Australian birdied three of his first four holes in the early morning, when conditions were calm and the course was most vulnerable.

"That really set the theme for the day," he said.

Appleby added three birdies on his back nine, but said the round was rougher than his score revealed. He missed seven of 14 fairways, finding a bunker with his tee shot on the par-5 fourth hole that led to a bogey.

Appleby still easily broke 70 for the first time this year, scoring well despite playing what he called his "C" game.

"I'm not really worried about trying to just play good every week and win," he said. "I'm more worried about playing poorer golf better. That's probably what today was. It wasn't quite right, but it was a lot better golf."

LPGA Tour

Lorena Ochoa took her first step toward overtaking Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the world.

Even though her putting wasn't up to her standards, Ochoa hit it close enough at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to make five birdies and open with a 3-under 69 in tough conditions, leaving her one shot behind Shi Hyun Ahn in the first major of the year.

The 25-year-old Mexican star needs a victory this week to become No. 1.

Unlike a year ago, when Ochoa tied an LPGA major record with a 62 at Mission Hills, the greens were too firm and the rough too thick to allow for that kind of scoring Rancho Mirage, Calif.

And as hard as she tried, defending champion Karrie Webb couldn't repeat her 18th hole magic.

Webb holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards for eagle on the final hole of the fourth round last year to make up a seven-shot deficit, eventually beating Ochoa in a playoff. She was only 82 yards away Thursday, hit a full sand wedge that rode the slope and flirted with going into the hole. It stopped a few inches away.

Webb feigned disgust, slamming her sand wedge to the turf with a smile on her face. The tap-in birdie gave her a 70, putting her in a group that included Maria Hjorth and Catriona Matthew.

-- The Associated Press

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