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Scrappy Pressel fights swing to an even-par draw

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Nobody got hurt.

That’s the best you can say about Morgan Pressel’s opening tee shot Friday at the ANA Inspiration.

She smothered a duck hook that would have been ugly by pro-am standards, a first shot that barely traveled 50 yards before screaming for cover in the rough.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” Pressel said.

That’s not exactly the way you want to start the second round when you’re in sole possession of the lead, but the shot was mere context for the day’s denouement. It would define Pressel’s round in the best way possible. This day was all grit and guts for Pressel. She put up a fight that made her swing coach proud, even with the awkward early misses.

Undaunted working through major swing changes, Pressel fought her way home with an even-par 72 that left her very much in the mix to win her second major championship.

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“The changes we’ve made are dramatic,” said Ron Stockton, Pressel’s swing coach. “I know she’s not comfortable with them yet. She got off to a rough start and put on her boxing gloves. I’m really proud of her.”

On a difficult day for scoring, Pressel managed to stay ahead of everyone but Sei Young Kim, who seemed to be playing a different course. Kim shot 65, leaving her two shots ahead of Pressel with the morning wave complete.

“Any player that’s won a championship has heart,” Stockton said. “They can will things to happen. No matter what they brought to the course that day, they aren’t giving in. Morgan has that quality.”

Pressel actually made par after that lousy opening tee shot. She scrambled hard until finding the new swing she and Stockton are piecing together. She hit just eight of 14 fairways,  just 11 of 18 greens.

“It was a little sloppy all around,” Pressel said. “My swing wasn't quite as sharp as it was yesterday, and I kind of made some sloppy bogeys and some really good pars.”

Pressel loves everything about the ANA Inspiration. She became the youngest woman to win a major championship when she won this event under its Kraft Nabisco name in 2007. She was 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old back then.

It took some fight to win that first major with scoring conditions so difficult. Pressel fought to put up an early score and watched all the challengers fall away. She won at just 3 under.

Pressel loved this championship and all its traditions even before she won it. Stacy Lewis will testify to that. An amateur in ’07, Lewis was paired with Pressel in the final round the year that Pressel won.

“She was telling me stories about this place,” Lewis said. “She embraces the history of it.”

Lewis remembers the attitude Pressel used to help her win.

“I remember that year, because it played so hard, and she just hung around and she hung around,” Lewis said. “That’s who Morgan is. She's a grinder. She's not going to go out there and wow you with anything, but she's going to just keep hanging around.”

Pressel, 26, is looking to win her second major with a new swing. She started working with Ron Stockton, and his father, Dave, here in 2009. In a difficult decision, Pressel split with Ron at the U.S. Open last year. She didn’t go searching for a new coach. She decided to go it alone.

On her own, Pressel says she learned a lot about feel in her swing, but she began grooving a takeaway that was too far inside, and then an over the top loop.

Feeling “lost” in Singapore last month, she reached out to Stockton. He couldn’t have been happier to reunite. They got back working together three weeks ago.

“She’s like a little sister of mine,” Stockton said. “It was wonderful to get the call.”

Stockton dramatically changed Pressel’s takeaway, so she’s not taking it back on the inside anymore, which feels odd to Pressel.

“She feels like it’s so far out from where it was,” Stockton said. “She feels like she’s waving to the crowd with her right hand.”

Pressel, though, saw results almost immediately. She shot a 64 in the second round of last week’s Kia Classic, taking a share of the lead there. She ended up tying for 15th, her best finish this season.

While the changes are a work in progress, Pressel’s encouraged they’re coming together so quickly, even with the awkward swings that naturally creep back into a round.

“I would say the last four holes today, and the last four approach shots, I hit it much, much better,” Pressel said. “At least I can walk off the golf course saying, `OK, I feel a lot better about my swing.’”

And keeping alive the possibility she could take another leap into Poppie’s Pond.

“I gave myself a chance for the weekend, and, these two days, that’s all I really could do,” Pressel said.