Hjorth leads State Farm; Sorenstam falters late

Friday, September 1st 2006, 5:48 am
By: News On 6

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) A player from Sweden leading an LPGA tournament? That's not unusual.

This is, though.

Maria Hjorth, not Annika Sorenstam, is in 1st place after the opening round of the State Farm Classic.

"I've had some good rounds, but not really four rounds in a row,'' Hjorth said. "Hopefully, I can keep it going.''

Hjorth shot a 7 under 65 on Thursday for a 1 stroke lead over Dina Ammaccapane, Nina Reis and Brittany Lang.

Sorenstam, meanwhile, was 5 strokes off the lead and a bit frustrated. She got off to a good start, sinking an eagle early on, but bogeyed the 16th and 18th holes.

Lorena Ochoa was at 5 under, and 2004 winner Cristie Kerr was another shot back.

Three weeks after a 1 stroke victory on her home course at the TPC of Scandinavia, Sorenstam met Ochoa again. They were grouped with Kerr this time. The gallery on the 18th hole at The Rail Golf Club was smaller, several hundred, compared to 20,000. And they left the course record book as is, after setting marks for the lowest round at Bro-Balsta, where Sorenstam started playing when she was 12.

Sorenstam and Ochoa were 3 under at the turn Thursday. A birdie on 14 put Sorenstam at 4 under, but things unraveled at the end.

Her 6 iron on 16 settled near the edge of the water, and she chipped and 2 putted. On 18, Sorenstam landed in a bunker near the front of the green. She dug out, but missed a short putt for par.

Her finish was a stark contrast to her beginning.

Sorenstam's approach on the first hole stopped about 2 feet from the cup, setting up a birdie. She pumped her fist after knocking in a 20 foot putt for an eagle on the par-5 4th to go 3 under, but she bogeyed the par3 5th.

Ochoa also birdied the first hole, sinking a 15 foot putt. She was 3 under after converting a 20 foot putt for birdie on #4 and knocking in an 8 footer on the 5th.

She birdied the par-4 10th and bogeyed the 13th. But while Sorenstam struggled on the 16th and 18th holes, Ochoa birdied them. Her day ended with a short putt, after her approach stopped a few feet from the cup.

With the moist conditions, she was aggressive. So was Hjorth.

"It's definitely an advantage to be a longer hitter,'' she said. "On par-4s, of course, if you are coming in there (with) short irons, you will have birdie chances because the ball is sitting dead on the green, so you really have to play it up to the pin.''

Seeking her third victory and first since 1999, Hjorth started from the 10th tee and had 7 birdies. 5 came on her back 9, where she birdied #4, 5, 6 and 7 and finished with another on #9.

The 65, her third this year, tied her season low. It's not the first time she has played well here. Hjorth tied for 5th last year and had her best finish in 2004 when she tied for 17th.

"It's a course that I like,'' Hjorth said. "You just have to make your putts to make birdies because it's really kind of a birdie course out here. You have to take advantage of the chances that you get.''