CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. - If nothing else is learned about Annika Sorenstam this week at the 60th U.S. Women's Open, one interesting fact will suffice.
Despite her cool exterior and stoic persona, even the ice queen of the LPGA feels a tad squirrelly at times.
As she stood over her opening drive in the first round yesterday, Sorenstam seemed cool as ever, perfectly at ease. But given the circumstances - she is seeking to become the first player since 1950 to win the first three legs of the Grand Slam - her belly admittedly was boiling.
"Why was I nervous?" she said. "U.S. Open, a lot of people, tough golf course, a lot on my mind. There's a lot of things."
Predictably, she needn't have worried much. After a shaky start, Sorenstam gritted her way to shoot an even-par 71 and stands two strokes behind two surprise co-leaders at Cherry Hills Country Club.
Usually laserlike in her consistency, she hit only 10 greens in regulation and fell five shots off the lead after playing five holes. But if two past Open victories have taught her anything, it's that the tortoises, not the hares, usually win this race.
"It's a marathon," she said. "I do look at leader boards and always have, because it's fun to see what's going on. But it wasn't like I was panicking. Someone's always going to have a good round. You just hit your own shot and see where you are at the end of the day."
The answer: Tied for ninth with four others, including 17-year-old amateur Morgan Pressel and defending champion Meg Mallon.
Leading the way at 2-under are 19-year-old amateur Brittany Lang, who won a national NCAA team title at Duke last month, and Angela Stanford, who lost the 2003 Open title in a playoff. France's Karine Icher was 2-under through 14 holes and was one of 48 players still on the course when play was suspended for the day because of darkness. Play twice was halted because of bad weather.
In terms of aesthetics, it wasn't Sorenstam's prettiest effort of the year. In fact, she one-putted six of the first seven holes of her back nine to stay afloat. Yet at the Open, where par is always a good target score, she's right where she needs to be.
"She made some big saves today," said her caddie, Terry McNamara. "That could have easily been three or four shots worse."
She salvaged pars on three of four holes on one back-nine stretch, including getting up and down from a greenside bunker so deep on her 14th hole, McNamara told her to aim at a man in the grandstands because she couldn't see the flag. Her sand shot left her with a slick, downhill eight-footer for birdie.
"No way she makes that," said Cherry Hills head pro Clayton Cole, who was watching Sorenstam play. "That's maybe a 1-out-of-10 putt."
Down it went. Good thing he didn't put any money on it.
Fidgety at the start, Sorenstam missed the first two fairways and quickly fell five shots behind the irrepressible teenager, Pressel, who first played in the Open four years ago. Pressel dived as low as 5-under early in the round before finishing at 71.
Stanford, who hasn't done much since finishing second at the 2003 Open after appearing in a three-way playoff with Kelly Robbins and eventual champion Hilary Lunke, said she's experiencing a similar vibe from two years ago.
"I think in 2003, each shot I hit, I was really in the moment," said Stanford, 27, who doesn't have a top-10 finish this year. "I felt like that again today. So that was a good feeling."
Having Sorenstam on your tail surely isn't.
"If somebody would have told me on the first tee, `We'll give you level par,' I would have taken it," Sorenstam said.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.