How Swede It Is


RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Conditions were difficult at best during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills. Liselotte Neumann led a handful of players who managed to break par amidst windy conditions.
Neumanns consistent play - resulting in no bogeys and three birdies - positioned her in the lead by late afternoon. At 3-under-par 69, she was the only player in the field to break 70, and she did so in wind gusts up to 15 mph.
It was pretty solid golf and Im happy with my round, Neumann said. I had some long putts today ' got the speed down and putted really well.
Neumann, who admitted to playing the course approximately 10 times this January, recorded birdie on the 380-yard par-4 fourth, the 508-yard par-5 ninth and again on the 385-yard par-4 12th.
This is Neumanns 15th appearance at the Nabisco Championship. And although she has never won the title, she has finished in the top 10 twice. Her best finish was a tie for fifth in 1998 ' the same year she joined the LPGA Tour.
A native of Finspang, Sweden, she now calls Boca Raton, Fla., home for most of the year, but she makes a second home in Palm Springs - 'Palm Springs is beautiful, she said. Who doesnt want to live there?'
Defending champion Annika Sorenstam silently stalked the lead throughout her afternoon round, moving to 3-under by her 13th hole. The strategic way in which she attacked the course was almost visible on the scoreboard.
Sorenstam also recorded three birdies but made her second bogey of the day at the last to fall one stroke off the lead. Im very happy with my round, she said. I thought I played excellent golf and, as you know, the wind is howling out there.
The wind was a big factor from the first tee to the last putt.
Course conditions rapidly changed as night fell. The last groups faced high winds, plummeting temperatures and impending thunderstorms. I saw lightning before it was all through, Sorenstam continued. And I dont like lightning.
Already leading the LPGA Tour money list with $247,005 in winnings this season, Sorenstam is on the right track to repeating last years success. And tied just one stroke off the lead, she hasnt left much breathing room for her fellow Swede.
I was really focused, very patient, Sorenstam said. Today I was calm ' I was playing calm golf; not pushing it, not being too aggressive.
Early leader Amy Fruhwirth and Gloria Park recorded opening rounds of 2-under-par 70. They are tied with Sorenstam in second place.
I have to say putting was the key, Fruhwirth said. Every opportunity I had for birdie I took advantage of, which is important out here.'
Fruhwirth had a two-stroke advantage at 3-under until gusty conditions and an errant drive right set her up for bogey on the 18th. Early on the front nine it wasnt too windy, until the backside for my group, probably starting on 16, 17, 18.
Usually 18 is the only real scary hole, I think - coming in cross-wind, driving with the water on the left and the wind blowing left-to-right. That was probably the trickiest hole with the wind, just because its so severe and you have to be accurate on that hole on every shot.
A relaxed Fruhwirth is brimming with confidence this week. Ive played very well here in the years that Ive played,' she said. 'So, theres a lot of confidence with that coming into the tournament. Im pretty accurate off the tees, so I dont ' Im not finding myself in a lot of trouble.
Wind made already tough conditions more difficult, but the players caught a break this year with significantly shorter rough than theyve seen here in the past.
The rough this year is not as high, which is nice because when I did miss the fairway I was able to hit an iron out and actually get it on the green; whereas, in years past, pulling out a sand wedge was almost what I had to do, Fruhwirth said.
Hall-of-Fame member Betsy King recorded a 1-under-par 71. King has won this event three times prior in her career (1987, 90 and 97). Becky Iverson joined King late in the day along with Hall-of-Fame member and fellow 40-year-old Beth Daniel. Rounding out the group is 15-year-old amateur Aree Wongluekiet, who was at 2-under through the 16th.
Full-field scores from the Kraft Nabisco Championship