Inkster shares lead in wide-open Open

Players beat heat, and par, for records

June 05, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WEST POINT, Miss. -- A little jingoism could go a long way this weekend in the 54th U.S. Women's Open.

Not to say that the heat-stroked fans here at the old Waverly Golf Club CC will go out of their way to root against the foreign players in contention, but those Americans in the hunt wouldn't mind seeing their country's four-year winless drought in this event end.

The way things set up for today's third round, the Open has the look of some sort of international competition. What it doesn't look like is an Open.

At a record-tying, 10-under-par 134, Juli Inkster is tied for the lead with Lorie Kane of Canada, who shot a course record-tying round of 8-under-par 64. First-round leader Kelli Kuehne, who broke the record Thursday, is one shot behind. Becky Iverson is 8-under after becoming the third player at this year's Open to shoot 64.

Reigning U.S. amateur champ Grace Park of Korea is three strokes back after a 5-under 67 and is tied with Americans Sherri Steinhauer and Dottie Pepper, as well as Catriona Matthew of Scotland. Others in contention include defending champion Se Ri Pak of Korea, who is at 6-under 138 and tied with three lesser-known Americans, among them former LPGA champion Sherri Turner. Akiko Fukushima of Japan is five shots behind.

"This is the U.S. Women's Open and as an American -- and it's nothing against the foreign players -- I would love to see an American win the event," said Kuehne, 22, a former two-time women's amateur champion, who backed up her own 64 with a solid 1-under 71. "It's on U.S. soil, so I'd like to see a great player, hopefully a great American, win."

Cane, a former Moosehead beer sales rep from Prince Edward Island, understands that feeling.

"It's just about having national pride," Cane said.

Or amateur pride. While the 19-year-old Park will try to become this year's Jenny Chuasiriporn, or perhaps follow Pak as the second straight Korean to win, Chuasiriporn will be watching from the condominium she rented near the 10th fairway. Making her pro debut, the 21-year-old from Timonium missed the cut by seven shots after finishing yesterday with a 2-over par 74 for a two-round total of 7-over 151.

The cut at even par was the lowest in open history, eclipsing the mark at Crooked Stick in 1993 by three shots. Among those also to miss the cut was two-time Open champion Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, who finished at 2-over 146, and four-time runner-up Nancy Lopez, who finished at 5-over 149 after a 73. The 42-year-old Hall of Famer hinted this might be her last Open.

"Think about how many Opens I've played in," said Lopez, who played this year with a special exemption, the first she has ever had to accept, and a brace on her left knee. "If I do have to qualify, I don't know if I'll do that. As much as I love to play in the U.S. Open, I don't want to do that."

This continues to be the un-Open. The course, which produced a record 43 sub-par rounds on Thursday, continued to bow to the pressure of soft, flat greens. Another 62 players broke par yesterday, an embarrassing stat that will undoubtedly have USGA officials scrambling to prevent Alison Nicholas' tourney record of 10-under par two years ago from being shattered tomorrow.

Said Mary Capouch, chairman of the Women's Open Championship committee, yesterday as she followed around Chuasiriporn and Lopez: "The heat will be a factor. I also think endurance will come into play."

The heat, which reached the mid-90s yesterday and could go higher on the weekend, could wear down some of the older players. It also could help younger players such as the 21-year-old Pak, a former track star, and Kuehne, who grew up playing in the Texas heat.

Inkster, who has won three major championships and has given birth to two children during an 18-year career, laughed when she heard a comment the well-liked Park made about her makeup running because of the heat.

"It really threw my makeup off," Inkster, 38, said with a laugh. "I've got to keep reapplying. But this is like running into a brick wall. Last night I was really feeling my age."

When told about what Inkster said, Lopez smiled.

"It would be great for an American to win," she said. "A 38-year-old American."

Pub Date: 6/05/99

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