Balanced Wildcats jump to nine-stroke lead

Updated: May 21, 2002, 11:39 PM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN, Wash. -- The University of Arizona Wildcats, helped by three strong individual scores, took a commanding lead Tuesday in the first round of the NCAA Division I women's golf tournament.

Duke sophomore Virada Nirapathpongporn shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 to take the individual lead. Georgia junior Summer Sirmons was one shot back at 69, while seven players were tied at 70.

The Wildcats, from the Pacific-10 Conference, had a team score of 285, nine strokes better than Duke and Georgia, whose four-person teams each shot 294. Five teams, including pre-tournament favorite Auburn, were at 298 over the par-72, 6,273-yard Washington National Golf Club.

Three Wildcats cracked the top 10, led by junior Laura Myerscough, who shot a 70. Sophomores Mar Garcia and Lorena Ochoa each had 71s. Senior Cristina Baena carded a 73 for Arizona.

Ochoa was the pre-tournament favorite and is expected to turn pro Saturday. She has won an NCAA-record eight tournaments this year and has three top-10 finishes competing on the LPGA tour as an amateur. Ochoa had four birdies and three bogeys.

Nirapathpongporn, from Bangkok, Thailand, has played golf since she was 10. She moved to the United States when she was 15.

She had four birdies in her first round. All of her birdie putts were from 8 feet or less.

The winner last year, Duke senior Candy Hannemman, shot a 75. Hannemman was even through 15 holes, but hit right into a creek on the par-3 16th. After getting to the green, she missed her putt and finished with a five on the hole. Hannemman hit her ensuing drive into the water again on No. 17 and ended up with a bogey.

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press