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FIFTH PLACE Rookie Gulbis in contention



Published: Sat, July 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The first-year pro who encourages veterans in her group shot a 67.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

VIENNA -- Low rounds seem to follow Natalie Gulbis.

In this, her rookie season, the 19-year-old Gulbis has played in the same groups with Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Kelly Robbins. Each time, an accompanying veteran has soared to a low round.

"I'm always good luck to whoever I play with," Gulbis said. "I think I'm too much of a cheerleader out there. I'm like, 'Come on, Kelly. Make that putt.' "

Gulbis watched Friday as Robbins played her way into a tie for the lead at the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic with an 8-under-par 64. Fortunately for Gulbis, she wasn't far behind.

A resident of Sacramento, Calif., Gulbis shot her way into contention with a 5-under 67 at Squaw Creek Country Club. She joined another rookie, Jung Yeon Lee of South Korea, for fifth place, three strokes off the lead.

Good time

"It was really fun playing with Kelly Robbins," Gulbis said. "When you have someone playing with you who's playing really well, they kind of pull you along. I just happened to be the one she pulled along."

Robbins said, "I knew she was playing well, hitting it very solid and not making too many mistakes. She was rolling the ball good and making some birdies."

Gulbis took advantage of the par-5s, with birdies on three of the four. She had two other birdies to complement her string of pars and bogey-free play.

"In a three-day event you really have to get off to a good start," Gulbis said. "If you get off to a shaky start, it causes some problems."

Gulbis finished her round minutes before heavy rains dampened the course.

"I got lucky with an early tee time," said Gulbis, thunder booming overhead. "It looks like we're going to be dodging the weather."

Top rookie

With her play this season -- five top-15 finishes -- Gulbis leads the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race with 356 points. Beth Bauer is second with 340.

"Besides Beth and I, there are probably another good two or three rookies that aren't far behind us, that can definitely come up and catch us with a couple of good shots," Gulbis said.

Gulbis, who played at the University of Arizona, travels the tour with her dad, John Gulbis.

"I've played well, I've played bad," she said of her play this season. "My dad travels with me, and we've had a great time in different cities every week."

richesson@vindy.com




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