Hurst takes one-stroke LPGA lead in California

RANCHO MIRAGE, California, Reuters

American Pat Hurst used her power game to forge into the lead at the halfway stage of the first major of the women’s season, the Nabisco Championship on Friday.

With a four-under-par 68, the 1998 winner posted a six-under-par 138 total and edged one clear of Sweden’s Carin Koch, who shot a 69 as she set her sights on a first LPGA Tour title.

The next group, another three shots back, was made up of South Korean Pak Se Ri, Japan’s Akiko Fukushima, American Dottie Pepper and Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam who shot 59 in last week’s tournament and has won the last two events.

Hurst, who used to live nearby, said she is always comfortable here, and her long game also proved to be an asset over a course where any visit to the rough is a severe penalty.

“I have the length and strength which really helps on this course,” said the player who had shared a five way tie for the first round lead on 70.

“I can afford to be a little erratic and still get away with it. I also have a lot of friends and family to support me which is great.”

Hurst had five birdies, including three in a great outward half of 33, and her only mistake was a bogey at the 15th where she hit her drive into the trees.

Koch won her first professional title, the Chrysler Open, in Sweden on the European Tour last year, and holed the winning putt for Europe against the United States in the Solheim Cup at Loch Lomond in Scotland last October.

“That has given me a lot of confidence and I don’t feel I have got anything to prove,” she said. “I definitely feel I can win out here. I’ve come close in the past and, hopefully, I’ve saved it up for this weekend.”

Koch, another of the joint first-day leaders, opened by missing the green to drop a shot, but hit back with birdies at the second, sixth, 11th and 12th, all from inside the 12 foot range.

Sorenstam had a 70 to stay in touch, while the defending champion and world No. 1 Karrie Webb also could not be ruled out after a 72 for one over 145.

“But I need to go low over the weekend,” admitted the Australian who is seeking a fourth major in six starts.