(Helsingborg, August 16 2002) Stamping her authority all over the £325,000 Compaq Open, World number one Annika Sorenstam rattled of a new course record six under par 66 to lead her nearest challenger by four shots at the halfway mark at Vasatorp GC.
The Swede is well on her way to her eighth win of an amazing 2002 season as she lowered her first round score by a shot to lead on 11 under par from compatriot Sophie Gustafson, her nearest challenger on seven under.
Tucked in behind on six under is the ever-colourful German Elisabeth Esterl, who notched up nine birdies during a rollercoaster five under par 67, the diminutive Nadina Taylor, a bubbly Australian aiming to improve on her best finish of tied 11th with two more good rounds and England’s Johanna Head, who fired a two under par 70 in perfect scoring conditions.
Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, playing alongside Sorenstam, carded a four under 68 and occupies sixth place on five under par. Liselotte Neumann from Sweden is in seventh on four under and England’s Laura Davies shares eighth place on three under par with Australian Joanne Mills and 2003 Solheim Cup captain Catrin Nilsmark.
Sorenstam sprinted away from the field with two of her eight birdies arriving at the opening two holes. Despite a three putt bogey at the third, the Swede remained ice cool in the soaring temperatures and closed out her front nine of 33 with two laser-like seven irons, making easy birdies at the par three seventh and the difficult par four ninth.
But another three putt from Sorenstam at the tenth gave the rest of the field hope. However, in true Annika style, she responded beautifully with a simple two-putt birdie at the 11th.
An audacious chip in at the 14th proved the fact great champions are occasionally fortunate, but by draining a downhill 40-foot putt at the 15th, she was perhaps pushing lady luck too far.
At the final hole, a simple two putts from 35 feet would see her stretch her lead in a strong field.
“It’s always nice to shoot a course record at any time,” said the 31-year-old from Stockholm, who stated that she hoped her first round 67 would be the highest score of her week, providing conditions prevailed.
“I hit much better shots today and I am very pleased to be at 11 under after two rounds. The greens were definitely better early this morning, not so many footprints of pitch marks.
“Some shots I hit like the pitching wedge at number eight was so far off the planet it wasn’t funny, but I made a great up and down there and at 14, I hit pushed a six iron from 179 and then I was lucky enough to chip in!
“The short game was good today and that’s why I shot six under.”
Gustafson, showing a healthy return to her best game began sprightly with a powerful eight iron to six feet at the tenth hole, her first, but could only muster a string of eight pars in perfect scoring conditions to turn in one under.
The 28-year-old from Saro missed a gilt edged opportunity at the first hole, but made up for it when she lobbed in a 25-footer for birdie at the second. And in a frustrating day on the par fives, the Solheim Cup star rammed home a massive 50-foot birdie putt on the ninth green, perhaps the most undulating on the course.
“I played the par fives in one over and that’s just not good enough on this course,” said a frustrated Gustafson.
“You need to score very well on the par fives, but other than that, I was very happy with my game and we’ll see if we can get it right for the weekend. To not play the par fives well and be seven under is encouraging.”
Taylor carded six birdies and two bogeys for her 68 and showed great patience as she aims to improve on her performance in Ireland.
“I was solid out there,” said the 23-year-old from Mona Vale. “I hit some great shots and my course management was excellent. I’ve been working hard on my swing and tried to have a good rhythm out there. I’m hoping for a top ten which would be a great in this illustrious company.”
And in one of the most extraordinary rounds, Esterl racked up nine birdies and five bogies in her rollercoaster 67.
“My putter went crazy today, but it should have been 10 birdies!” laughed the 25-year-old Bavarian, who lies in tenth spot in the 2002 Solheim Cup rankings.
“The greens were so much better today in the early morning and I got on a good run. I’ll need another six rounds of nine birdies if I have a chance to make the (Solheim Cup) team this year.
“I don’t think I am going to get a wild card, so I’ll have to play my way in. But even if I don’t get it, there is always next year, but I definitely want to be the first German representative.”
Head returned four birdies and two bogeys during her day and rued the missed chances including an uphill putt from seven feet at the last.
“I hit the ball really well and I should have been nine under par,” said the 28-year-old from Ascot. “I just wasn’t confident with my putting today, the greens were a little bumpier this afternoon and I wish I’d made birdie at the last hole.
“I’m happy with my game and I’ll keep playing the way I am and let the result happen.”