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Pak is leader to beat today



Published: Sun, July 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



VIENNA -- Her level of concentration blocks out any distraction that might hinder her play.

Her swing is compact, yet incredibly strong. She out-drives virtually any other player on the LPGA Tour, and her short game is impeccable.

Her putting is equally impressive. She'll rarely leave a birdie attempt short.

Se Ri Pak was the biggest money winner on the Tour to come to Squaw Creek Country Club this week, and is set up for a three-way showdown today for the $150,000 first prize with Tammie Green and Sherri Steinhauer. Pak leads Green by two shots and Steinhauer by three after 36 holes.

Back-to-back 67s: Pak, who "graciously" allowed two other players to share the first-round lead, pulled away from the field Saturday. Under bright sunshine and a crowd on the small side, Pak eased her way around the Squaw Creek layout with a second consecutive 67 that put her two shots ahead of Green and three in front of Steinhauer.

She has made the whole thing seem effortless, but, then we should be used to that after watching her win at Avalon Lakes in 1998.

Pak packs a lot of wallop into her short, yet incredibly strong frame. She manages to harness her emotions, and what you see from the gallery or on television is the same, stoic expression, regardless of whether she is five shots ahead with one day remaining, or hopelessly out of contention, which is rare.

It doesn't necessarily make for good television drama, but that doesn't mean the folks at ESPN and the LPGA haven't taken notice. They know a good ratings attraction when they see one.

On Saturday, Pak and her group just happened to make the turn at 2 p.m. and, lo and behold, there was ESPN2 starting its coverage from the 10th tee.

At the time she held a slim one-stroke margin, but it wouldn't be long before Pak began to widen her advantage.

Birdies in bunches: The South Korean parred 10, then hit a long drive on 11, helped by a fortuitous kick, and made birdie after leaving her approach shot about 4 feet from the hole.

Even though Pak made par on 12, leaving her at 8-under, she birdied 13 to reach 9-under.

She parred out, except for a birdie on 15 that put her at 10-under.

Pak always has been a gallery favorite here since her 1998 championship. There were anywhere between 200 and 300 fans following her, depending on where she was on the course.

Galleries: The only other players to approach that size of gallery were Green and defending champion Dorothy Delasin.

(And that crowd was mostly pro-Green, as evidenced by the kind of reception for each when they were introduced before their first tee shots.)

And while Delasin and Green and Michelle McGann and other former Valley tournament champions have their fans, Pak has been the dominant player here this week. She was considered the favorite by many observers before Friday's play began, and obviously has done nothing that would suggest she can't win it today.

There's little doubt Green will make a run. She's the owner of seven Tour victories, including two here in the Valley, and with "Team Green," her family and friends fan club probably making the trip here today, Green should have some momentum on her side.

Green's fans were a great help when she defeated Laura Davies in a playoff in 1997, so the precedent is there.

But as strong as Davies played that year, Pak should be an even more formidable foe for Green and Steinhauer.

XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write him at todor@vindy.com.




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