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Poor Start for Sorenstam Ochoa on Track

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Lorena Ochoa took her first step toward overtaking Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the world.
Even though her putting wasn't up to her standards, Ochoa hit it close enough Thursday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to make five birdies and open with a 3-under 69 in tough conditions, leaving her one shot behind Shi Hyun Ahn in the first major of the year.
The 25-year-old Mexican star needs a victory this week to become No. 1.
Unlike a year ago, when Ochoa tied an LPGA major record with a 62 at Mission Hills, the greens were too firm and the rough too thick to allow for that kind of scoring.
And as hard as she tried, defending Karrie Webb couldn't repeat her 18th hole magic.
Webb holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards for eagle on the final hole of the fourth round last year to make up a seven-shot deficit, eventually beating Ochoa in a playoff. She was only 82 yards away Thursday, hit a full sand wedge that rode the slope and flirted with going into the hole. It stopped a few inches away.
Webb feigned disgust, slamming her sand wedge to the turf with a smile on her face. The tap-in birdie gave her a 70, putting her in a group that included Maria Hjorth of Sweden and Catriona Matthew of Scotland.
Sorenstam, meanwhile, struggled.
Even after finishing with a birdie, she jammed her putter into the bag with disgust, then stood behind the ninth green with hands on her hips after her worst start at a major in seven years. She opened with a 3-over 75, a score that could have been higher if not for a few par saves.
'I'd like to forget this day,' she said.
At this rate, Sorenstam might have to forget about that No. 1 ranking.
Ahn took the lead on a sun-soaked day in the desert, overcoming some jitters about being in a major and staying true to her plan of not taking her golf so seriously. She made six birdies in her round of 4-under 68.
It was a strong round for Ahn, the LPGA rookie of the year in 2004, for Mission Hills was tougher than ever. The course was lengthened by 104 yards to measure 6,673 yards, the rough was thick enough to be a half-stroke penalty and the greens were so firm that Paula Creamer hit a wedge heavy with spin and it took a few hops forward before stopping.
It was tough on everyone.
Sorenstam's score was her highest in the opening round of a major since she shot 76 at the Kraft Nabisco in 2000. Even more frustrating was that she wasn't sure how it happened.
'I felt good. I felt ready. And then I got off to a really terrible start,' she said.
Starting on the back nine, the 36-year-old Swede hit her approach stiff on the 12th for a birdie to go 1 under, then split the middle of the 13th fairway and had 123 yards to the hole.
She chunked her second shot. Her chip was about 20 feet long and above the hole. And she three-putted for double bogey.
That was the start of Sorenstam missing five consecutive greens, and she did well to save par with a 20-foot putt on the 15th and a chip from across the green on the 16th to about 3 feet.
'It wasn't anything in particular,' Sorenstam said. 'But I'm not going to let this round ruin the rest of the week. I'm going to get some lunch, hit some balls and this day is forgotten.'
Sorenstam played with Creamer, who struggled with the speed on her putts and shot 73.
Ahn shot into the lead with three straight birdies around the turn, her best hole at the par-3 eighth with a 5-iron into 12 feet. She hit a gap wedge into 8 feet to close out the front nine, followed with a wedge into 20 feet on the 10th and traded two birdies with two bogeys the rest of the way for a solid start.
She has tried to change her attitude this year to have more fun.
'I do put pressure on myself, but it's not to the point where I'm coming down hard on myself,' she said. 'I'm taking it lighthearted and having fun with it, so that has changed my game a lot.'
And she if hopeful she can learn from her experiences in the majors, especially last year at Bulle Rock.
Ahn was one shot out of the going into the final round of the LPGA Championship and came to the last hole needing a birdie to join the playoff. But her approach was long, left and into the water.
'My goal was to come through, and I didn't,' she said of her first brush with a major. 'I don't want to make the same mistake.'
While it's not ideal to play a pro-am round the week of a major, there are two pro-ams at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, one of them on the adjacent Palmer Course. That means players only have one day of practice to themselves, which is Monday, and many of them had to travel from Phoenix to get to Mission Hills. 'It would be interesting to see the guys do that before a major,' Inkster said. 'We need to change that.' ... Seven players failed to break 80, including former U.S. Women's Open champion Birdie Kim. ... Meg Mallon, missing only this major to complete the career Grand Slam, is making her '07 debut after recovering from a foot injury in the offseason.
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