PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) – Becky Morgan shot an 8-under 64 in cool, rainy conditions Thursday to take a three-stroke lead over Lorena Ochoa after the opening round of the Rochester LPGA.

Ochoa closed with three straight birdies for a 67, one ahead of Maria Hjorth (68) and two in front of 2003 U.S. Women’s Open champion Hilary Lunke (69). Se Ri Pak, Christina Kim, Laura Diaz and Rachel Hetherington were at 2 under.

Morgan is a two-time runner-up who has struggled this season.

Her best finish in 2005 is a tie for 27th at the season-opening SBS Open in Hawaii, and she’s missed the cut in five of 10 tournaments this year.

“It was pretty squelchy out there – yeah, just one shot at a time and stay patient, which I guess I haven’t been this year,” the 30-year-old Morgan said. “It’s the best I’ve hit all year. I’ve been struggling to find anything.”

The 23-year-old Ochoa capitalized on the smooth-running greens at soggy Locust Hill.

“The greens are not as fast as they usually are, and you have to take advantage of that,” Ochoa said.

Rain coursed down throughout the day and the temperature never climbed above 64 degrees.

The overcast conditions reminded Morgan of her home in Monmouth, Wales, as did the old-style course with its tight, undulating fairways and compact greens – suitable for short but accurate hitters like herself.

Morgan led the tour in driving accuracy in 2003 at 83.4 percent and is eighth this year at 82.9 percent. But the 5-foot-2 graduate of North Carolina-Greensboro lags on distance, averaging 233.5 yards this year, 151st on tour.

She had a round of nine birdies and just one bogey, finding her touch with a new putter. Starting on the back nine, she opened with three birdies, bogeyed No. 14, but canceled that out with a birdie at No. 17. After the turn, she ran off five consecutive birdies starting at the third and made a 40 foot putt on No. 6.

“I suppose I’ve played on a lot worse at home, but I don’t enjoy playing in the rain,” she said, joking.

Ochoa, a runner-up three times this year, came off a two-week break to tie for fifth at last week’s LPGA Championship and ranks third on the money list with $537,268. She burst to prominence with two wins in 2004, setting tour records for birdies (442), rounds under par (75) and rounds in the 60s (51). During her rookie year in 2003, she finished second in Rochester.

Cristie Kerr, second on the money list behind Annika Sorenstam, withdrew after six holes because of a knee injury. Sorenstam skipped the tournament to prepare for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills. Despite 62 career LPGA victories, the Swede’s best finish in four tries in Rochester was a second in 1996.

Starting on the back nine, Ochoa overcame some wayward tee shots by getting up-and-down five times from off the green.

More relaxed after the turn and hitting more fairways, she holed a tricky left-to-right downhill putt from 10 feet on No. 7. On the next hole, she landed a wedge shot within about a foot and made the putt for birdie. She finished her round with another 10-foot putt for her sixth birdie.

Defending champion Kim Saiki, who broke a 12-year winless streak here last June, carded a 73.

The $1.5 million tournament is sponsored by Wegmans, a grocery store chain.

AP-ES-06-16-05 1932EDT


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