A Change In Fortunes For The Teens

Friday, June 29th 2007, 7:45 am
By: News On 6

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) _ Alexis Thompson played without a care in the world, even if she only had one birdie on her card. That's expected of a 12-year-old playing in her first U.S. Women's Open, the youngest qualifier in history.

Michelle Wie might remember that feeling.

She was 13 when she made her Women's Open debut four years ago and opened with a 73. Based on the way she continued to slide off the map of women's golf, it must seem like a distant memory.

``I know I'm a better player than this,'' the 17-year-old from Hawaii said Thursday after hitting only four fairways, four greens and signing for an 82 that extended her streak to 21 rounds without breaking par, 13 of those on the LPGA Tour.

Thompson, with a braided pigtail and constant smile, isn't through with her first round. In a wild day at Pine Needles, which featured a 3 1/2-hour storm delay that didn't produce a drop of rain, she only finished nine holes before darkness suspended the first round.

The 78 players who teed off in the afternoon were to return at 7:30 a.m. to finish the first round.

Defending champion Annika Sorenstam was at even par through 13 holes, while three players were at 2 under at various stages of their opening round _ In-Bee Park through 16 holes, Jee Young Lee through 12 and Karine Icheer through 10.

All of them will be chasing 18-year-old Angela Park, an LPGA Tour rookie who is gaining quick experience leading the majors. Park fired off three straight birdies in the crisp, calm morning, reached 4 under with a birdie on the eighth, then hung on along the back nine of Pine Needles until a bogey on the 17th when she drove into the trees.

She shot a 68, while only a half-dozen other players from the morning broke par, one of them Julieta Granada.

If the lead holds, it will be the second straight major Park was atop the leaderboard in the first round. She was in a three-way tie for the lead at the LPGA Championship, where she wound up in fifth place.

``Maybe this week will be different,'' said Park, who was born in Brazil to South Korean parents and grew up in California.

It was different for Karrie Webb, bordering on surreal.

She won the Women's Open the last time it was played at Pine Needles in 2001, and was considered one of the favorites. No one could have guessed the Hall of Famer would fail to make a birdie on her way to an 83, the highest score of her career.

That includes Webb.

``I have no excuses. I'm not that kind of player,'' Webb said. ``Do you think I had any idea I'd shoot 83? It was a terrible round, one of the worst days of my career.''

There were plenty of other surprises over 13 1/2 hours of the first day.

_ Lorena Ochoa went from celebrating one of the most amazing shots of her career, holing out from a bunker with a 5-wood, to stunning bad luck when her approach bounced between two bleachers and out-of-bounds. She was at even par, along with Kraft Nabisco champion Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome and Cristie Kerr.

_ Laura Davies, needing a victory at a major to get into the Hall of Fame, holed out from the fairway on No. 8 for eagle to get within one shot of the lead, only to drop three shots over the next six holes.

_ Juli Inkster was working her way up the leaderboard and was 50 yards in front of the green on the par-5 10th. But her flop shot was blocked by a bunker, and it came out 40 feet long. She then four-putted for double bogey and was 2 over through 12 holes.

Thompson, who just finished the sixth grade while being home-schooled in south Florida, split the middle of the fairway with her opening tee shots and finished the back nine with four pars, four bogeys and her first birdie in a Women's Open. There were only about 200 people following her after the delay, but they were vocal.

And the kid had a respectable start, considering she played the tougher back nine first.

``I'm pretty happy _ I'll just go into tomorrow and try to make my pars,'' Thompson said. The first round resumes at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

Starting times for the second round have been pushed back about two hours, making it uncertain it will finish before dark.

That might be the only way Wie makes it to the weekend.

She hit only four fairways, four greens and offered an assessment that was difficult to grasp.

``It's just a very fine line between shooting 69 and shooting what I shot today,'' said Wie, who has gone 21 rounds without breaking par.

Park continues to thrive at the start of majors. If her lead holds up, it will be the second straight major in which she was atop the leaderboard after one round. She was in a three-way tie at the LPGA Championship, where she wound up fifth.

``Maybe this week will be different,'' said Park, who was born in Brazil to South Korean parents and grew up in California.

Wie was hopeful this tournament would be different, but she offered only a feint smile when she rapped in her 82nd stroke of the round on the final hole. She played without a brace on her left wrist, and her injury seemed to be the least of her worries the way she slashed out of the Bermuda rough.

``All I need is the confidence to play well,'' she said. ``And I just need to see one round where all my shots are where I want them to be. Then after that, it's a done deal. I just need to see it.''