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Three Share Lead in Sebring

SEBRING, Fla. -- Non exempt LPGA Tour players Lee Ann Walker Cooper of Cary, N.C., Michele Vinieratos of Altamonte Springs, Fla., and Patti Rizzo of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., each shot a two under par 70 to share the lead after the first round of the Florida Hospital Futures Golf Classic at the 6327 yard Sun 'N Lake Golf and Country Club in Sebring, Fla. Eight players are tied for fourth at one under par 71.
Walker Cooper, who began on the back nine, made steady pars until a bogey on the par three 172 yard 17th hole. She finished the back side with another par on nine and turned at 37 (+1).
Walker Cooper carded birdies on three, four, and seven, making respective 25, four, and eight foot putts. She parred the remaining two holes to finish the round at 70 ( 2).
'I was making much better contact with the ball than I was two weeks ago in Lakeland,' stated Walker Cooper. 'I hit every green on the front side, which was the key to my round. I was also able to focus more on my putting.'
In 17 events on the Futures Tour last season, Walker Cooper recorded one top 10 finish and finished 46th on the money list with $9,010. She returned to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament last October, where she tied for 51st to re gain non exempt status for 2003 LPGA Tour. Walker Cooper was a member of the LPGA during the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
She will play in next week's Futures Tour tournament in Tampa, Fla., before heading back home. At the end of April, Walker Cooper will attempt to Monday qualify for upcoming LPGA Tour events, in Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina, all within driving distance of her home state.
Rizzo, who played in the morning wave, started on hole 10. She got off to a quick start with birdies on 13, 14, and 18. Rizzo continued with another birdie on two, but bogeyed the next hole. She bogeyed eight and ended with a 70 ( 2).
Rizzo was the 1982 LPGA Rookie of the Year. She is a four time LPGA Tour champion and a nine time Japan Ladies Professional Golf Association (JLPGA) winner. Rizzo competes with the LPGA Tour under the Class A Tournament Division, Tournament Winner Category.
Vinieratos' front nine consisted of one bogey and birdies on three, four, six, and she chipped in from 40 feet off the fringe on seven. She birdied 13 and finished the round with bogeys on 15 and 18 for her two under par 70 performance.
Vinieratos withdrew from the season opening Lakeland Futures Golf Classic due to an injured elbow. She considered withdrawing for this tournament to prevent her from getting a long term injury. However, after discussions with her physical therapist, she decided to play.
'I haven't played for the past few weeks and I felt great out there,' stated Vineratos, who has also been recovering from a chronic wrist injury for the past four years. 'I'm just dealing with some muscle soreness, but it is nothing that can prevent me from playing to the best of my ability.'