Gulbis Tied Annika One Back

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2005 McDonaldHARVE DE GRACE, Md. -- Annika Sorenstam turned her head and studied the large leaderboard behind the green on her last hole Thursday in the LPGA Championship, seeing her name in a familiar position at the top. It didn't stay there long, but it was never far away.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam is going for her third straight McDonald's LPGA Championship victory.
Natalie Gulbis rose to the occasion playing with Sorenstam by closing with five straight birdies, including an 18-foot putt on the ninth hole for a 5-under 67. She shared the lead with big-hitting Laura Davies, who bullied the par 5s at Bulle Rock and nearly reached the 596-yard 11th hole in two, and with Laura Diaz.
 
Bulle Rock delivered plenty of excitement in sauna-like conditions, with a celebration for Karrie Webb as the newest member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and a celebration of youth. Eighteen-year-old Paula Creamer birdied four straight holes late in her round for a 68, and 15-year-old Michelle Wie overcame a sick stomach for a 69.
 
Still, Sorenstam was never far from anyone's mind.
 
Davies could get into the Hall of Fame with a victory at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, although she knows the tournament doesn't really start until Sunday, and she was well aware of who was right behind her.
 
'There's a certain Sorenstam out there that will be hard to beat,' Davies said.
 
Sorenstam made it look easy, as always, giving herself ample birdie opportunities and only twice needing to save par from delicate spots from off the green.
 
She wound up with a bogey-free 68, breaking her own LPGA Tour record with her 12th consecutive round in the 60s. And it was just the start she was looking for as she goes for the second leg of the Grand Slam.
 
'Today is probably 10 percent of the whole tournament,' Sorenstam said. 'It's such a long way to go. I've got to be patient, If you prepare for months and months and set high goals, the last thing to do is come to a tournament and get in my own way. That would ruin it for myself.
 
'There's two people in me - one calm and one totally excited. The calm won today.'
 
Gulbis, the calendar girl whose next project is a reality show on TV, put some focus on her game with a terrific finish. She was a bystander for most of the day until she hit a 6-iron to 10 feet and holed the birdie putt on No. 5. She followed that with two more approach shots inside 10 feet, and hit her best shot of the round, a 5-wood that stopped 25 feet away on the par-5 eighth for a two-putt birdie.
 
Suddenly, she walked side-by-side with Sorenstam up the ninth fairway, tied for the lead, but not for long. Gulbis hit a 9-iron that landed a foot in front of the flag before rolling back to 18 feet, and she ended her round in style.
 
The LPGA Championship moved to this Pete Dye design after 11 years at DuPont Country Club, and no one was quite sure what to expect of a course that requires precision to various targets.
 
'My caddie and I thought 8 under would win this,' Gulbis said. 'I thought pretty much anything under par would be a really good round.'
 
There were plenty of scores like that.
 
Creamer, coming off her first LPGA Tour victory and then high school graduation, found a groove with her irons and didn't have to make a birdie putt longer than 6 feet coming in.
 
Wie, playing her first tournament since a tie for 14th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, was lucky to finish. Despite a beautiful flop shot within 3 feet at the par-5 eighth and another solid wedge from a severe downhill lie in the rough on the ninth, she looked as though she would rather be anywhere than on the golf course.
 
Then, play was suspended nearly an hour because of storms in the area.
 
'I feel really stupid saying this,' Wie said. 'I ate too much. It caused a little indigestion. Every time I breathed, it felt like barf was coming out.'
 
The break recharged her, and she played the back nine in 32.
 
Davies charged up the galleries with her aggressive style, especially on the par 5s. The 596-yard 11th hole is believed to be the longest ever in women's golf, and Davies pounded her tee shot beyond the 300-yard mark. She opted for another driver, probably not the smartest shot, but 'I just wanted to see if I could get there.'
 
She wound up about 30 yards short on the rain-softened fairways, but pitched to 3 feet for an easy birdie. She had eagle putts on two other par 5s, hitting a 7-iron for her second shot on the 481-yard eighth hole.
 
But the most important club in her bag, as always, was the putter.
 
Davies hasn't won in four years on the LPGA Tour, remaining two points shy of the 27 points needed for the Hall of Fame. Her putting began to turn around when she had her caddie start lining up the head of her putter, and a 62 last week gave her a shot of confidence.
 
Webb was never more happy shooting 74.
 
She earned Hall of Fame points five years ago when she won the U.S. Women's Open, and needed to put in 10 years on tour. She got there Thursday, when her round marked her 10th official event of the year.
 
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