Kane leads new-look Tucson event

Friday, March 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ By the third hole of the Welch's-Fry's Championship, Lorie Kane knew she made the right choice about tossing out everything but last year's putter.

It was the holdover putter _ and Kane's knack of reading greens _ that led her to a career-low 9-under-par 61 Thursday in the first round of the LPGA Tour's season opener.

``When you change equipment and spend some time playing around with things, you always wonder: 'Did I make the right decision?''' Kane said. ``I think I did.''

The Canadian eagled the third hole with a 40-foot putt, added two more birdies before the turn and finished the round with five consecutive birdies to move one shot ahead of Tonya Gill and A.J. Eathorne.

Pat Hurst, Young Kim and Beth Bader had 63s, and Meg Mallon, Deb Richard, Marnie McGuire and Christina Kim shot 64s.

Laura Davies, who won the Australian Ladies Masters last month, and 1998 champion Helen Alfredsson were part of a 13-player cluster four shots off the pace.

Annika Sorenstam, a two-time Tucson winner, skipped the tournament to take an extra week off to prepare for a season that will include her historic foray into the PGA Tour at the Colonial in May.

It was hoped that the presence of international stars Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak, defending champion Laura Diaz and 1999 winner Juli Inkster would compensate.

Pak shot a 67 and Webb and Inkster had 68s, both after struggling early. But Diaz carded a 71 to fall 10 shots behind.

She and every other Tucson champion since 1980 won on the par-72 North Course at Randolph Park. This year, the event is at the shorter Dell Urich Course, which occupies the southern half of the municipal golf complex.

A new course and new clubs added up to a cakewalk for Kane, who missed only three cuts last year and finished among the LPGA's top 12 money-winners for the sixth straight season.

What she didn't get was another victory, leading her to rigorous conditioning and a change in her swing posture as well as the turnover in equipment.

``It's a continuation of a lot of things,'' said Kane, whose previous best round was a 63 at last year's season-opener event in Hawaii, also on a par-70 layout.

Gill and Eathorne also shook up their games and got similarly pleasant results.

Gill, an early starter, made the first birdie of the tournament with a 35-foot putt on No. 1. She had seven more in her career-best round.

``It's a nice way to begin the year,'' she said. ``I worked really hard on my putting this winter. I basically tore down my putting stroke and started over. So far, so good.''

The 32-year-old Gill was a rookie in 1995, but couldn't keep her card. She taught and coached until 2000, when she began playing the Futures Tour for the second time. She requalified in the final qualifying tournament of 2001 and won enough money last year to reach nonexempt status.

Eathorne matched her career low with a strong finish _ she had birdies on five of the last eight holes.

The Canadian bogeyed the second hole, but atoned with a birdie on No. 5 and an eagle-3 on No. 6.

``Last year seems like years ago,'' said Eathorne, who hurt her wrist, moved from British Columbia to Phoenix, changed coaches and made nine cuts in 2002.

``I think it was a snowball effect. My head went bad. After all that happens, it's hard to take a positive attitude.''