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Trio share first round lead

Already the top American in the world rankings, Cristie Kerr is aiming a little higher after taking a share of the lead after the first round of the LPGA Championship on Thursday.

Relying on her clutch putting, and untroubled by a heavy downpour that briefly stopped play early in the afternoon, Kerr shot a 4-under 68 to match Stacy Lewis and Seon Hwa Lee on the Locust Hill Country Club course outside of Rochester.

It’s still anybody’s event as the tough conditions—including a persistent and gusting wind—created a logjam behind the leaders in the LPGA Tour’s second major of the season. Inbee Park, Mika Miyazato and Lindsey Wright were a stroke back.

And score one for Juli Inkster. The 31-time LPGA tour winner celebrated turning 50 with a 71. She was tied for 11th and 19 players were within three shots of the lead.

Paula Creamer, competing in only her second tournament since having surgery to repair ligament damage in her left thumb, was among those at 1 under. Creamer struggled with her putting, and played with her left thumb wrapped.

Kerr has plenty of incentive to win this weekend. Though she has 13 career victories, she’s only won one major—the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open.

Then there’s the objective to climb into the race for top spot in the world rankings. She opened the week ranked fifth and with a victory has a chance to move firmly into contention after Ai Miyazato supplanted Jiyai Shin for the top spot last weekend.

Miyazato, who has won four tournaments this season, struggled Thursday, finishing with a 76. Shin, meanwhile shot 72.

“This is what I wanted starting the first day,” Kerr said of being in contention. “You get kind of a taste of the blood in the water. It kind of motivates you and you look forward to getting up to play tomorrow.”

Kerr is already enjoying a solid year. She won the State Farm Classic two weeks ago, one of her five top-10 finishes that includes a tie for fifth at the tour’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April.

Starting on No. 10, Kerr opened with two birdies, and then got to 4 under after a birdie at No. 17, an easily reachable 478-yard par-5. After a bogey on 18, she responded with a birdie on No. 2 and then parred out. It wasn’t easy.

She saved par on her final hole—the 172-yard par-3 nine—by two-putting from 35 feet on a tricky green.

The weather played havoc with shots along the narrow tree-lined, 6,506-yard course that demanded accurate shots off the tee.

The early afternoon downpour had just begun when Lewis reached the green at No. 9, her final hole. Facing an 8-foot putt for birdie, Lewis acknowledged she had plenty of incentive to sink it before quickly escaping to the dry confines of the scorers’ tent.

“I was glad to hit the tee shot before it started to pour,” Lewis said. “I knew I was going to get soaked. And I knew I could go inside and dry off. I just didn’t worry about it.”

The 25-year-old is finally beginning to play to the potential she showed in finishing in a tie for third at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open—a tournament she had led after three rounds. This year, her second on the LPGA Tour, Lewis is coming off a pair of top-16 finishes, and also earned a career-best second-place finish at the Tres Marias Championship last month.

Inkster, who was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” from the gallery at least four times on the course, rewarded her fans by getting to 4 under through 12 to briefly take sole possession of the lead. Inkster, however, struggled by finishing with four bogeys—sandwiched between a par and a birdie—over the final six holes.

“It didn’t feel any different than it did yesterday,” Inkster said. “Maybe I’m trying to fool myself, I don’t know. But I feel like I’m in good shape.”

Yani Tseng, who won the Kraft Nabisco, faltered down the stretch in her bid to win two straight majors. After getting to 4 under through seven holes, Tseng had five bogeys on her next seven holes—including four in a row—and finished at 3 over.

Anna Nordqvist, the defending champion, opened with a 73.



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