Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Mallon takes lead at Women’s Open

July 21, 2000

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— Meg Mallon tried to play the 14th hole the way everybody else does.

But when she tried going over the big pond off the tee, she lost her ball in the water. When she tried to play it safe on the dogleg that's so sharp it looks like a boomerang, she went into the sand.

So when her caddie suggested taking a detour through the 13th fairway, she figured, why not? If U.S. Women's Open officials didn't like it, they could put a few Port-A-Potties in the way.

"It actually feeds right into the green," she said. "You don't have to carry a bunker, you don't have to hit it over the water. The only thing you have is you have to hit it over a tree."

Mallon had no problem with the tree -- or anything else on the Merit Club course Thursday. While the wind and the rough turned beautiful shots into bogeys for everyone else, Mallon shot a 4-under-par 68, taking a 1-stroke lead after the first round of the Women's Open.

But Karrie Webb, the No. 1 player in the world who's already won one major this season, is right behind. Playing in the afternoon, when swirling winds made pars almost impossible, Webb closed with two birdies on her final three holes and is at 69.

"The wind was pretty consistent all afternoon, blowing. ... The course strayed out quite a bit. The fairways were faster than ever and the greens have hardened up," Webb said. "I hit a lot of safe shots today and took advantage of my birdie shots when I could."

Fellow Australian Shani Waugh is also at 69. Juli Inkster, trying to become the first player to successfully defend two majors in the same year, bogeyed her final hole and finished with a 70.

"I had some good chances for birdies, just didn't make them," she said. "I started out with a bogey and finished with a bogey, so everything in between was pretty good."

And Inkster was luckier than most. The wind was swirling and blowing in a way players hadn't seen all week, carrying shots into the rough and pushing balls off greens.

Se Ri Pak, the 1998 champion, needed three shots to get out of the rough on No. 3, a par-5. When she finally got on the green, her ball rolled into the water. She ended up with a 9 on the hole, yet still managed to finish at 2-over 74.

Annika Sorenstam, who won her last two starts, had a 73.

"You know, it's only Thursday," Sorenstam said. "We have three more days of golf. Today was just a tester."

Mallon isn't the first player to find a shortcut around a tricky hole at a U.S. Open. In 1979, Lon Hinkle used the 17th fairway as a detour when he birdied the 8th hole at the Inverness Club. So many other players copied him that the U.S. Golf Association planted a tree to block his way.

Hinkle continued to play the shot, simply going around the tree.

"I'm interested to see what the USGA does to this," Mallon said. "I don't know if they're going to put a tree up like they did for Lon Hinkle or put up Port-A-Lets or something. Hopefully, they won't change the way the course is and I'll be able to do that every day."

There aren't overnight landscaping plans, said Kendra Graham, the USGA's director of Women's Competitions. In fact, it's unlikely they'll make any changes to the hole.

"I think it's ingenious," Graham said. "Just shows you there's many ways to skin a cat."

It was Mallon's caddie, John Killeen, who came up with the idea. Play the par-4 14th hole straight, and you need a 300-yard drive to take the big pond off the tee out of play. Play it safe, though, and there's a bunker waiting.

It was the second-toughest hole Thursday, with a scoring average of 4.48.

But as Mallon and Killeen were walking up the 13th fairway during a practice round earlier this week, Killeen happened to look back at the 14th green and saw an opening.

There's a large oak tree on the left side, two more on the right and four smaller trees in the middle. From a certain point near the beginning of the 13th fairway, though, there's a narrow but straight shot to the 14th green.

"I think that's the smart way to play that hole," said Beth Daniel, one of Mallon's playing partners during the practice round. "It takes all the trouble out of play."

Still, no one expected it. When Mallon used her shortcut Thursday, her playing partners were stunned and the USGA marshals scrambled for their walkie-talkies.

"It certainly shocked them," Mallon said. "They weren't quite sure what I was doing."

Divots: Former President George Bush was in the crowd Thursday. ... Webb and Inkster have combined to win the last five majors. Inkster won the LPGA Championship last month, as well as last year's LPGA and Women's Open. Webb won the Nabisco Championship in March and the du Maurier Classic last season. ... There are 18 amateurs in this year's Women's Open.

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