JAL Big Apple Classic
JAL Big Apple Classic
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Pak holds holds on to lead

Se Ri Pak says she is bigger in her native South Korea than Michael Jordan is in the United States.

Clinging to a one-shot lead midway through the Japan Airlines Big Apple Classic, Pak said she wants to be like Mike used to be on the basketball court -- bold, aggressive, ultra confident.

"I will try to play more strong, no matter what," Pak said after shooting a 2-under 69 today at the Wykagyl Country Club. "Saturday and Sunday, go for it. More better score each day. That is my style."

Pak said she has been a superstar in Korea since her fabulous 1998 season in which she won four tournaments including two majors, the U.S. Women's Open and the LPGA Championship. When she tried to go home after that performance and blend like before into the background, she discovered the extent of her celebrity.

"Many say I am in my home country more than Michael Jordan is here," she said. "After win, I went back to country, I try to wear different clothes and go shopping. Still they know me. Pretty amazing."

Pak is currently working on a new round of fame-enhancing accomplishments. She has won two of the last four LPGA events and has returned to the elite circle of players -- Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster, and Meg Mallon among them -- who seem to win all the tournaments on tour.

All three of those players are back at the top of the leaderboard this week.

Mallon, Webb, Lorie Kane and Sherri Steinhauer were at 6-under 136, one stroke behind Pak. U.S. Open champion Inkster, continuing her sensational resurgence, shot a 4-under 67 Friday and was at 138, along with Pearl Sinn.

Pak, who led by a stroke after an opening-round 66, had nine pars, four bogeys, four birdies and an eagle in an up-and-down round. For the second straight day, she eagled the 432-yard, par-5 15th, hitting a second-shot 4-iron to about 40 feet and rolling in the putt.

At one point, Pak appeared ready to take command of the tournament but she couldn't do it. Standing at 9-under, she pulled a 5-wood into a greenside trap on the par-3, 222-yard seventh hole -- her 16th hole of the day -- barely got the ball onto the green and two-putted from 25 feet.

On the short par-4 ninth, Pak pushed her drive into tall grass at one end of a water hazard. She had to chip out into the fairway and couldn't get up and down for par.

"Almost a pretty good round," Pak said. "A few bad shots. My irons, a little pulled. My driver, a little pushed."

Mallon's five-birdie, no-bogey 66 tied with Diane Barnard for today's low round.

"It feels great because this golf course can jump up and grab you," Mallon said.

A pal from the U.S. World Cup soccer team, Julie Foudy, followed Mallon's threesome around the course today and cheered every birdie.

Kane and Steinhauer have shot identical 68s each of the first two rounds. Kane's round was more of a roller-coaster than Steinhauer. She started with two bogeys to slip to 1-under for the tournament but then made five birdies and 11 pars the rest of the round.

"I sometimes think I have to dig myself a hole, then I decide I'd better get something going," she said.

Kane is sixth on this year's money list at $434,094, but is still seeking her first career victory. She has finished second seven times in her LPGA career.

Webb, who has won five times this year, birdied three of her last last four holes to complete a 4-under 67.

Today's sultry 97-degree weather took a toll on Korean Mi Hyun Kim, the points leader for rookie of the year who was tied for second after a 4-under 67 Thursday. She bogeyed two of her five holes today and dropped out because of the heat.

Following the opening round, Kim said she had been fighting a stomach virus for days and had only been able to eat one banana all day Thursday.

Mallon said she wondered early today whether she was going to finish her round.

"The first three holes, I wasn't sure I was going to make it," she said. "The sun was really hammering down out there."

Pak, on the other hand, said the weather was identical to the middle of summer in Korea.

"It's not bad," she said. "I like hot more than cold. Hot is pretty good."

Even hotter weather with higher humidity is forecast for Saturday and Sunday in the New York City area.

DIVOTS: Defending champion Annika Sorenstam shot a 2-over 73 today and was at 3-over 145 for two rounds. That was 12 shots worse than her 67-66 start in last year's tournament, which she eventually won by eight strokes with a record 19-under 265 score. ... Beth Daniel's drive to get into contention ended when, at 3-under, she double-bogeyed the short par-5 15th. It is a hole on which most golfers this week have been routinely making birdie or eagle. Daniel finished with a 73 and a 2-over 144 total. ... Rachel Hetherington challenged Pak for most of the day but faded with a double bogey-bogey finish to shoot 72. She was among those at 3-under 139.