CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) – No stranger to pressure, Annika Sorenstam had to cope with jangled nerves as she stood on the 10th tee Thursday at the U.S. Women’s Open, the snowcapped Rockies and a chance to make history both on the horizon.

She took a deep breath of mile-high air to steady herself, then promptly hit into the rough and made bogey.

It wasn’t the best start as she resumed her bid for the Grand Slam. It wasn’t a great finish, either, not after taking three putts from just off the ninth green for another bogey.

But she conquered her nerves and broke even with tough Cherry Hills, finishing with an even-par 71 that left her two shots behind Angela Stanford and 19-year-old amateur Brittany Lang when the first round was suspended.

Why the queasy feeling?

“U.S. Open, a lot of people, tough golf course, a lot on my mind,” Sorenstam said with a smile. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. I really want to do well here. When you stand on the tee, you know you have to hit fairways. That’s double pressure right there. I’m just happy I found the rhythm in the middle.”

Karine Icher of France was at 2 under with four holes left when play was suspended by storms in the area, with 48 players unable to complete their round.

Michelle Wie, the 15-year-old from Hawaii who was second behind Sorenstam at the LPGA Championship, again put herself near the top of the leaderboard with back-to-back birdies on the back nine, starting with a 20-footer on the par-3 12th. She was at 1 under with three holes to play, facing a delicate chip from just off the 16th green.

The scorecard showed an even-par round for Sorenstam, who breezed to victories in the first two majors. But she worked hard to keep it from being worse, salvaging her round with nifty par saves along her back nine. Steeped in concentration, she twice made 6-footers without looking at the hole until she heard the ball rattle around the bottom of the cup.

“Around par is always good at the Open,” Sorenstam said.

Cherry Hills didn’t leave anyone with much chance to relax. Of the 108 players who completed the first round, only six of them broke par.

Lang had a chance to take the outright lead until her approach on the 459-yard 18th hole – which yielded no birdies in the opening round and might not all week – clanged into the grandstand.

Natalie Gulbis went over the 18th green and made bogey to drop her to a 70, joined by former Women’s Open champion Liselotte Neumann, Young-A Yang and Nicole Perrot.

Others at 71 were defending champion Meg Mallon, Sophie Gustafson and 17-year-old Morgan Pressel, who was at 5 under through eight holes, but dropped three shots on the last two holes and wound up in tears.

“You do get beat up out there,” Stanford said.

Stanford kept the ball in the short grass, but she was all over the leaderboard. She opened with three birdies on the first five holes, gave all those shots back by the time she made the turn, then closed with a pair of birdies to take the outright lead among early starters.

The most important hole might have been a par on the uphill 18th, where she hit a 4-iron into the front bunker, blasted out to 7 feet and made the putt.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” she said.

Sorenstam wasn’t the only player battling nerves. Lang, who helped Duke to the NCAA title, is playing in her first Open and started in style with a birdie.

“I was nervous on the first tee,” Lang said. “It wasn’t until the end of the front nine that I got calmer. Just rolled some putts in and got calm.”

Sorenstam battled from the start. Her tee shot on No. 10 was gobbled up by rough so thick she had no chance to reach the green and missed a 5-footer for par. She found the left rough on the par-5 11th, and hit a long iron into the green for her third shot to take away a good chance of birdie.

She saved her round with three crucial par saves – an 18-footer after hitting into the bunker on No. 2, a 6-footer after missing the third green just long, and the best one of all on the par-5 fifth.

Sorenstam hit 4-iron off the tee, clipped a branch and dropped into the rough. All she could do was hack out short of a creek, leaving her a 4-wood into the green, which she deposited into the bunker. She blasted out to 7 feet, barely nudged the putt and lightly clenched her fist when it dropped.

“A string of important putts,” she said. “If I wouldn’t have made any of them, then it would be a totally different situation. I made them all, and that just kept me going.”

Pressel played in the group ahead of Sorenstam, and gave her something to think about with birdies on four of the first five holes. She was the only player to get to 5 under with a birdie on the par-5 17th.

“Then I just let it get away,” said Pressel, a fiery player who is either pumping her fist or wiping her eyes.

The meltdown came on the par-3 eighth. She chipped too hard and through the green, then watched in horror as her 15-footer for par raced 10 feet by the cup.

“Oh my God! Sit!,” she pleaded.

After two-putting for double bogey, she tossed her putter at the bag, then slammed her ball into the bottom pocket. Kneeling, she bowed her head and covered her face with both hands. She was still hot when she got to the ninth tee, swung hard and put it in the right rough for a closing bogey, putting her back at 71.

She started crying in the middle of her interview, still upset about her finish until someone reminded her that even par was never a bad score in the U.S. Open.

Sorenstam certainly had no complaints.

AP-ES-06-23-05 2216EDT


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