Friday, February 9, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, February 9, 2001

Sweden's Hjorth has one-shot lead in Takefuji Classic

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

KEAUHOU, Hawaii - Opening day of the LPGA Takefuji Classic was full of surprises. Most perplexing was the mysterious pull of the putting greens at Kona Country Club’s Ocean Course.

Rain made a brief visit to this arid area. The wind did not during a rare, all but "condition-less" day in paradise. Whales made a huge splash, appearing alone and then in a pod that brought galleries and golfers to a halt.

That still didn’t compare to the stunned looks the greens induced yesterday.

When it was over, Sweden’s Maria Hjorth held a one-shot advantage after a 5-under-par 67 that matched the tournament record established last year.

Nancy Scranton, Emilee Klein and Sophie Gustafson - also from Sweden - are next. A.J. Eathorne, Moira Dunn and Danielle Ammaccapane are tied for fifth at 69.

Defending champion Karrie Webb birdied three of her first four holes, but bogeyed her last with a three-putt to finish in a crowd of 12 at 70. That group includes Annika Sorenstam, who lost to Webb in a playoff here last year and is making her 2001 debut.

Without hesitation, the leaders admitted to not having a clue on Kona’s undulating, grainy greens, which cause the ball to veer dead toward the nearby ocean when they’re not dragging it down a slope.

Gustafson, who had five birdies in a torrid six-hole surge, called the radical breaks the "most dramatic" on tour.

Scranton, who hit it so close her longest birdie putt was 10 feet, confessed to being "constantly defensive. . . . You can hit good shots to six feet and you’re really guessing with the putts."

Klein, who didn’t have any bogeys, complimented the greens despite missing four birdie putts from within 15 feet.

"I think the greens are tricky, but they’re rolling really well," said Klein, who hasn’t won in five years. "If you put a good stroke on it, it will go in. My caddy and I charted the greens and it really helped. We know exactly where it’s going. If the green is breaking one way, but the grain is going another, you know it’s going to pull it some.

"And, you have to make sure you’re in the right part of the green. If you’re above the hole, you’re dead."

Hjorth and Gustafson got around it with pure power. Both finished in the top six in driving distance last year - averaging around 260 yards - and both birdied all but one of the par-5’s; Hjorth’s three putts were from within seven feet.

The leader also hit her drive to six inches on the par-3 fifth and sank birdie putts from 15 and 20 feet. She missed four more from inside 10.

"I hit a lot of greens, but I really didn’t putt that good," she said. "I hit a lot of shots close to the hole and missed them. But overall, I played pretty solid. The greens are really tricky here. That’s where the difference will come, I think. If you have a good round, you’ve made a lot of putts."

Hjorth has two LPGA victories, both in 1999. She lost a playoff last year to Scranton, who won her first tournament in seven years. Gustafson’s only two victories came last year, when she jump-started her best season with a career-low 65 at the Hawaiian Ladies Open.

In contrast, Webb and Sorenstam have 23 victories apiece, all since 1995. Yesterday, they picked up where they left off here last year, despite playing a group apart.

Webb did her damage early, then "kind of scratched it around" on the front nine. Sorenstam, also starting on the back, was even after nine holes, then birdied three of the first four holes after making the turn.

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