Kerr Ready for Title Defense


LINCOLN, Calif. ' For the first time in her seven-year LPGA career, Cristie Kerr enters an LPGA event not as one of the hungry players chasing a win, but as the tournaments defending champion, looking to hold off a wave of challengers gunning for her title.
Kerr headlines a 144-player field at this weeks $1 million Longs Drugs Challenge, where she will be looking for her second career victory. Her breakthrough win last year came via a 280 (-8) total, one stroke better than Koreas Hee-Won Han.
Kerrs title defense comes a little late and on unfamiliar territory, as the event was moved from April to October and from Twelve Bridges Golf Club to Lincoln Hills Club.
A deep and talented field awaits the 25-year-old, as 11 tournament champions from 2003 are playing in the 72-hole event. Three-time champions Candie Kung and Se Ri Pak, as well as two-time champions Hee-Won Han, Juli Inkster and Rachel Teske are teeing it up on the 6,428-yard course.
In addition, 2003 tournament winners Beth Daniel, Wendy Doolan, Hilary Lunke, Grace Park, Angela Stanford and Karrie Webb are competing. Kerr will also have to defend her title against 10 of her U.S. Solheim Cup teammates and five players from the victorious European squad. U.S. Solheim Cup captain Patty Sheehan and assistant captain Jane Geddes are also making the trip to Lincoln, Calif., for the event.
Seventeen-year-old Aree Song, who advanced to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament after finishing as co-medalist at the LPGAs first sectional qualifier, is competing in the event as a sponsors exemption. Song has made the cut in 11 of her previous 14 LPGA events, including all six major championships. Most recently, she finished fifth at this years U.S. Womens Open.
Last year, Kerrs opening-round 66 (-6) gave her a share of the first-round lead with Sara Sanders, three strokes ahead of Jane Crafter, Sophie Gustafson and Julie Piers. An even-par 72 in the second round left Kerr with a two-shot advantage over Mi Hyun Kim and Crafter after 36 holes.
Kerr fired a 5-under-par 67 in the third round to widen her lead to five shots over Crafter and put her in position for her first career win. A pair of front-nine bogeys and a costly double bogey on the 15th hole, coupled with birdies by Han on holes 13 and 16, left the two tied for the lead as Kerr stood on the 18th tee.
Han, who was playing in the group ahead of Kerr, struggled to a bogey on the final hole after an errant tee shot, while Kerr two-putted from 25 feet for par and her first career LPGA title. Despite a final-round 75, Kerr became the 2002 seasons second Rolex First-Time Winner and wire-to-wire winner.
Han, whose final-round 70 was not enough to get her in a playoff with Kerr, finished a stroke back in second, followed by Heather Bowie and Crafter two strokes back in a tie for third.
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