Five Share Lead in LPGA Qualifying

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. ' The first round of the LPGA Sectional Qualifying Tournament at Mission Hills Country Club is in the books and five players share the lead after carding 2-under-par 70s.
 
Susannah Laing, Kori Johns, Danielle Masters and Cherie Byrnes all played the first round on the 6,290-yard Arnold Palmer course, while Michelle Simpson opened the tournament on the 6,460-yard Dinah Shore course, which plays host to the LPGAs first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
 
On the front side, I played really well and made the turn at 4-under-par, said Simpson, who finished 66th on the 2003 Futures Tour money list after competing in 17 events. I was focusing really well and that is what I have been working on, so it was nice to be able to actually do it.
 
The 24-year-old played collegiate golf at Florida International University, where she graduated in 2001 with a degree in sports management. She got to 5-under on the day with a birdie on 11, but came back to the field with bogeys on 12, 13 and 14.
 
You come out here and just want to play four solid rounds of golf and then see what happens, she said. I struggled in Venice (at the first stage of qualifying) with trying to find my niche, but I like where I stand and hopefully I can do the same thing tomorrow.
 
Masters, of Maidstone, England, is the only amateur in the top 30 and is one of the youngest players in the field at age 20. She has a very impressive amateur record as she was twice a stroke play champion in England and was also the European Amateur Champion. Laing, who hails from neighboring Troon, Scotland, graduated this year from the University of San Francisco, where she was a four-time all-conference first-team selection.
 
Johns, the 1995 Texas State Amateur Champion, is the only American tied for the lead. She competed in 15 events on the 2003 Futures Tour and finished 69th on the money list. Byrnes, a 27-year-old from Australia, rounds out the top five tied for the lead. She played in the same group as Masters and was consistent all day, carding a 35 on the front as well as the back.
 
Players are competing on both the Arnold Palmer and Dinah Shore courses at Mission Hills Country Club, playing each of the courses once before the 36-hole cut is made following the second round. The final two rounds, which will feature the low 70 players and ties, will be played on the Arnold Palmer course. The top 30 players at the end of 72 holes will advance to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., Oct. 21-24. If necessary, a sudden-death playoff will be held to determine the 30th spot.
 
The Rancho Mirage qualifier is the second of the LPGA Tours two sectional qualifying events in 2003. The first LPGA Tour Sectional Qualifying Tournament was Aug. 26-29 at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla. The top 30 finishers from the California qualifier will join the Venice sectional qualifiers, current LPGA Tour members attempting to improve their status and the five players who finished sixth through 10th on the final 2003 Futures Tour money list at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament.