Ward shoots 64 to take lead
BEAVERCREEK, Ohio Wendy Ward started the LPGA Champions Classic almost the same way she ended it last year.
She tied the course record at the Country Club of the North with a 63 in the final round a year ago, surging to sixth place behind winner Annika Sorenstam.
"The numbers are out there," the 28-year-old Texan said. "You can't just kind of scoot around tomorrow and think even-par will do it because it won't."
Ranked 134th on tour in putting coming in -- almost 100 places higher than she was in 2000 -- Ward found her touch on the wet but firm greens.
"I cannot tell you how good I felt over the putter today," she said. "It's been a long time."
Sorenstam, seeking her sixth victory of the year, opened with a 69. She was at even par through her first 10 holes, then birdied three of the next four holes. Even though she'll start the final round tied for 21st and five shots out of the lead, she said the way she played the last nine holes put her back in the race.
"I was telling my caddie, 'I want to continue. Can we go another nine? I'm getting warmed up,"' she said.
Ward had not yet teed off Friday when the opening round was first suspended and then canceled because of heavy rain and lightning. Tour officials erased the early first-round scores and turned the scheduled 54-hole event into a two-day, 36-hole tournament.
It sprinkled early in the morning during Saturday's round, but the sun came out in the afternoon.
Starting on the 10th tee, Ward made the turn in 4 under and then had three birdies in a five-hole span to overtake rookie Jennifer Hubbard. Hubbard was already in the clubhouse with a 66 -- the best score of her brief career on tour.
Ward hit 8-iron shots to 20, 25 and 15 feet at holes No. 2, 4 and 6 -- then made the birdie putt each time.
She reached the 489-yard, par-5 eighth hole -- her 17th hole of the day -- with a driver and a 3-wood. She nearly rolled in the 15-foot eagle putt, settling for the tap-in birdie that doubled her lead.
"I do like this golf course. It sets up well for me," said Ward, who has two wins in her six years on tour.
Hubbard was an unlikely pursuer. She had broken par in only two of her first 11 rounds on tour and had missed the cut in four of five starts. The only time she survived the cut she did it in style -- holing a 147-yard, 7-iron shot for a hole-in-one on the last hole of the second round in Los Angeles. She tied for 38th to collect her first and only LPGA check.
With her father caddying for her, Hubbard was 2 under through her first nine holes, then birdied four of the next seven holes.
"I've only made one cut this year. It'll be a new experience for me," Hubbard said. "Maybe it's a good thing for me that it's only two rounds."
Second-year pro Audra Burks, playing in one of the final groups of the day, birdied the final hole to share second place with Hubbard at 66.
"When it's just two days instead of three or four, it leaves it wide open to the whole field," Burks said. "With a three- or four-day event, someone like Karrie Webb or Annika has a chance to kind of work their way in, then go low on the last day and beat you. With 36 holes, it's a horse race. You just want to stay on your horse."
Dottie Pepper, Mhairi McKay, Michelle Estill, Smriti Mehra and Anne Marie Palli opened with 67s.
Even though she hasn't won this year, Pepper has finished second twice, third three times and fourth once while taking over the No. 3 spot on the money list. She also went without a bogey in the wet conditions, three times hitting approach shots within four feet for birdies.
Palli's 67 was her lowest on the tour in almost eight years.
Hall of Famer Beth Daniel led the group at 68.
All 140 players return for the final round, with the top 70 and ties earning money.
Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press
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