Meunier-Lebouc tied with Sorenstam, Pak and Webb
PHOENIX -- The only thing better for the LPGA Tour than having its three top players tied for the lead in the second tournament of the year would be for a good rivalry to break out among them.
That's about as likely to happen as Patricia Meunier-Lebouc beating them all in the Safeway Ping tournament.
Meunier-Lebouc did her part Friday by shooting a 66 to join Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb on top of the leaderboard at 11-under-par midway through the tournament.
She was happy enough, but to Sorenstam, Pak and Webb it was just another day at their outdoor office.
''I'm just trying to mind my own business, play my own game,'' Sorenstam said.
That kind of attitude helped Sorenstam win 11 times last year and get her an invitation to play against the men at the Colonial in May.
It doesn't help generate much excitement, though, on a tour that craves more attention.
Sorenstam tried to do that on the course, making birdies on the last three holes for a 68 that gave her a share of the lead. Webb and Pak joined her, and so did Meunier-Lebouc, who has one tour victory compared to 88 for the top three players.
Unlike her fellow leaders, who found the situation rather ho-hum, Meunier-Lebouc was almost giddy with excitement.
''I just enjoyed the day,'' said the third-year tour player from France. ''I really wanted to be in the last group.
''I really made the putt on the last hole thinking I would be with some of them if I made it.''
Meunier-Lebouc, whose only LPGA victory came last year in the State Farm Classic, has a long way to go to match the exploits of the others.
To be tied with them in this tournament is heady stuff for the 30-year-old player from Dijon, France, a European tour fixture before qualifying for the LPGA in 2001.
''I have fun playing with these girls,'' Meunier-Lebouc said. ''You're scared, but you want to do good.
''I'm getting very close to taking it as a normal thing to play with them.''
Normal for Webb, Pak and Sorenstam is to be among the leaders and playing in the final groups in the last two rounds.
Sorenstam made sure she would be there by making birdies on the last three holes -- a streak that began when she almost holed out a pitching wedge on the 16th hole.
''I birdied the last three holes, so that really helps the score,'' said Sorenstam, who also had a 66.
Sorenstam began the week worried that all the attention paid to her plan to play against men might be a distraction on the golf course.
Two rounds into her first LPGA start this season, she's not worrying anymore.
''I'm very pleased where I'm at,'' Sorenstam said. ''I'm happy to be back and happy that my game is here as well.
''It's going a little better than I expected, not just golf-wise, but everything around it. Mentally I feel very strong and physically I feel strong. I'm ready to go this year.''
On a picture-perfect day in the desert on greens that putted true, it took a lot of birdies to stay among the leaders at the Moon Valley Country Club.
Webb made her share, just missing a 20-footer on the final hole that would have given her the outright lead. Instead, she settled for a 67 that put her at 133.
Webb was as matter-of-fact about her round afterward as she was on the course -- barely raising her hand to the crowd after making any of her six birdies.
Still, she said she was looking forward to a weekend of playing against Sorenstam and Pak.
''I don't think it hurts,'' Webb said. ''It's a good thing a lot of the top players are on top of the leaderboard. I think it will add to the excitement of the tournament.''
Pak held a one-shot lead after the first round, but her 68 wasn't good enough to keep it by herself after 36 holes. With a new driver she got Monday keeping the ball in the fairway, though, she wasn't complaining.
''It was really fun today,'' Pak said. ''Actually, the next few days are going to be fun.''
Pak has won 10 times over the last two years -- five each season -- but was barely noticed because of all the attention Sorenstam got by winning 11 times last year.
Now, the attention is on Sorenstam because she will play in the Colonial in May. Still, Pak said her time might come.
''She's really good,'' Pak said of Sorenstam. ''Someday pretty soon I'll get all the attention.''
A shot back after a 67 was Grace Park. Laura Davies was another stroke behind after a 66.
Sherri Turner has been on the tour since 1984, and she's always been one of the longest hitters. Now, though, she notices more and more players hitting drives 265 or 270 yards. ''I don't see the longer hitters really getting longer,'' Turner said. ''But I see everybody coming closer to the longer hitters with the ball and the drivers on the market now.''... Rookie Christina Kim rebounded from an opening 75 to shoot 68 and make the cut. She wasn't the low Kim in the tournament, though. That is Mi-Hyun Kim, 4-under through 36 holes. Two other Kims, Soo Young and Young, were 2-over.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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