It Girl Gets It Just Right


RANCHO MIRAGE, Cal. - She was definitely the It girl as she came off the Mission Hills golf course Saturday. Natalie Gulbis had hardly broken a sweat during the afternoon, though she had swung the club 68 times during the five hours she had been standing.
A long white ribbon fluttered her hair. Her outfit of colorful orange was still pressed and neatly tailored. She was public relations mans dream, saying all the right things, looking like a model.
Uh ' one other thing, gentlemen. She played golf like a champion. Her 68 tied her for the best score of the day Saturday, and it wasnt a fluke. The It girl is an athlete ' a excellent golfer, if you please.
The 68 probably wont help her win the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She started the day 11 shots off Lorena Ochoas lead. By days end she had trimmed the deficit to five, Ochoa touring the course in 2-over and Gulbis 4-under. But Gulbis believes she is probably too far back to be a serious win threat.
There isnt much pressure on her, Natalie was saying. She isnt expecting a whole lot ' a cynic would say that is why she hasnt won yet, a realist would say shes simply stating the painfully obvious.
I think Lorena Ochoa has a pretty fair lead, Gulbis said. As far ahead as she is ' Ive just got to go out and hit a lot of fairways.
Shes a phenomenal player ' a great player. She has hit the ball really well this week. You dont expect great players to come back to the field.
Is she not allowing herself to even think of winning? Well, Im pretty far back, she smiled, and the answer to the question was pretty well understood.
Ochoa has a three-stoke lead on Michelle Wie, Wie is two ahead of Natalie. Gulbis will play in the final group, since the other player at 4-under, Seon Hwa Lee, finished after Gulbis did.
Natalie played the first eight holes in even par, making birdie on the fourth, bogey on the eighth. But the shot of the day came on No. 9, a par-5 with an elevated green. Her first two shots left her just under 140 yards to the pin.
I hit an 8-iron in it took a hop, and next thing I knew, it was good, she said.
The crowd went nuts. Its always fun to make a good shot on 9 or 18 because all the people are there.
Naturally ' spoken like a true It girl. It was an eagle that sparked an impressive back nine in which Gulbis hit every fairway and added two more birdies, at No. 12 and No. 14.
Thats been more and more Gulbis-like throughout the year. She began working with instructor Butch Harmon last year and jumped to No. 6 on the money ladder, then capped the season with a solid Solheim Cup performance. And so far this year, shes finished in the top 5 three out of four tournaments. It cant be long before she breaks through to the winners circle for the first time.
Im just trying to become a more consistent player, she said simply. Same thing, youve just got to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, get a lot of chances to make putts.
Because if you miss the fairways at this tournament, it really takes the wind out of you. The rough is really, really high right off the fairway this year. Youve just got to wedge it out.
One final chance, though, Natalie ' do you have a chance tomorrow? Or is it all just for fun, just a good paycheck to play for?
Again, she slipped out of making any promises.
It depends on the weather, Gulbis said after a moments hesitation. If the weather gets bad, you know ' youve still got to play well.
She then turned to walk away ' always showing her PR perfection, always saying just the right thing. But youve got to admit ' the It girl is playing It golf.
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