Annika battles nerves, pressure
She is attempting to be the first to win the first three legs of the Grand Slam.
CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) -- Annika Sorenstam showed a human side to her machinelike march toward the Grand Slam, taking a deep breath of the mile-air Thursday morning to help steady herself at the U.S. Women's Open.
She doesn't get nervous very often. Rarer still is when she misses the fairway.
Sorenstam started with a bogey from the rough and ended the first round with a three-putt bogey from just off the green.
Along the way, she conquered her nerves and broke even with tough Cherry Hills, finishing with an even-par 71 that left her two shots behind Angela Stanford and Duke sophomore Brittany Lang.
Lang, expected to turn pro later this summer, had a chance for the outright lead until her approach on the 459-yard 18th hole clanged off the grandstand. She chipped to 30 feet and made bogey.
Even with a peaceful view of the snowcapped Rockies on the horizon, Sorenstam felt the pressure of trying to become the first player to capture the first three legs of the professional Grand Slam.
"U.S. Open, a lot of people, tough golf course, a lot on my mind," she said with a smile when asked to explain her nerves on the 10th tee. "I put a lot of pressure on myself. I really want to do well here. When you stand on the tee, you know you have to hit fairways. That's double pressure right there.
"I'm just happy I found the rhythm in the middle."
Karine Icher of France was at 2 under with four holes left when play was suspended by storms in the area.
Michelle Wie, the 15-year-old from Hawaii who was second behind Sorenstam at the LPGA Championship, again put herself near the top of the leaderboard with back-to-back birdies on the back nine, starting with a 20-footer on the par-3 12th. She was at 1 under with three holes to play.
The scorecard showed an even-par round for Sorenstam, but she worked hard to keep it from being worse. She salvaged her round with five nifty par saves on her second nine, twice making 6-footers without ever looking at the hole until she heard the ball rattle around the bottom of the cup.
Cherry Hills didn't leave anyone with much chance to relax.
With darkness and storm clouds gathering in the evening, only six players completed their rounds under par.
Natalie Gulbis went over the 18th green and made bogey to drop her to a 70, joined by former Women's Open champion Liselotte Neumann, Young-A Yang and Nicole Perrot.
Sorenstam was joined at 71 by defending champion Meg Mallon, Sophie Gustafson and 17-year-old Morgan Pressel, who was at 5 under through eight holes, but dropped three shots on the last two holes and wound up in tears.
"You do get beat up out there," Stanford said.
Stanford kept the ball in the short grass, but she was all over the leaderboard. She opened with three birdies on the first five holes, gave all those shots back by the time she made the turn, then closed with a pair of birdies to take the outright lead among early starters.
The most important hole might have been a par on the uphill, 459-yard 18th. She hit a 4-iron into the front bunker, then saved par with a 7-foot putt.
"It's an emotional roller coaster," she said.
Sorenstam wasn't the only player battling nerves. Lang, who helped Duke to the NCAA title, is playing in her first Open and opened with a birdie.
"I was nervous on the first tee," Lang said. "It wasn't until the end of the front nine that I got calmer. Just rolled some putts in and got calm."
Sorenstam wasn't her best, but she has won enough majors to know they are marathons.
"Around par is always good at the Open," Sorenstam said.
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