Gustafsson mauls Birkdale

Swedens Sophie Gustafsson mauls Birkdale with a 66 as Karrie Webb falls backwards...

Gustafsson mauls Birkdale

Sweden's Sophie Gustafson
overshadowed her more illustrious rivals today by carding a seven under par
66 for a three shot lead at the halfway mark of the £730,000 Weetabix
Women's British Open.

For the second day in succession, Gustafson made an incisive charge over the
closing holes of a sun-drenched Royal Birkdale and heads the leaderboard on
10 under par 136 from Juli Inkster of America.

Inkster remained in close contention thanks to a four under par 69, while
her compatriot Becky Iverson took sole possession of third place on six
under par after posting her second consecutive 70.
While yesterday's opening round at Royal Birkdale was dominated by world
number one Karrie Webb of Australia, today very much belonged to Gustafson,
already a three-time winner this season.

"I really enjoyed it out there, the weather was great and I just love this
course," said an understandably excited Gustafson.

"I've never played here before this week but it's a great course. I think it
suits my game. I had a great finish last night and a great finish today.
There are three par fives in the last four holes and I can take advantage of

The big-hitting Swede wasted little time closing the gap on the first round
leaders by holing a 30-foot birdie at the third, which she followed with
another from 10 feet at the fifth.

A superb three wood from 220 yards opened the door for a 12 foot eagle at
the sixth, and although the Swede dropped a shot on nine, when she drove
into the "junk" left of the fairway, she still managed to reach the turn
with a three under 33.

Another birdie at the 11th was cancelled out by a bogey at the 13th, but
once again Gustafson made the most of her length off the tee as she picked
up four shots over the closing four holes.

"Now this was when we started to have fun," were the words used by
Gustafson's caddie Chuck Hoersch when he described their closing stretch

Gustafson followed a five-foot birdie at the 15th by firing a wedge to
within two feet for another birdie at the 16th. Despite finding a greenside
bunker with her second shot on the par five 17th, she managed to get up and
down for birdie number three, before reaching the green in two at the last
and comfortably two-putting for her fourth birdie in succession.

Having secured her maiden LPGA victory at the Chick-fil-A Charity
Championship in March, Gustafson added to her haul of European titles by
winning the Ladies Italian and Irish Open earlier this season.
And with a recent Weetabix record that includes a second in 1998 and tied
sixth placing last year, Gustafson is in confident mood going into the last
two rounds.

"Yes I'm looking forward to the weekend," added Gustafson, who has already
secured her spot in the European team for October's Solheim Cup.

"I've started practising more around the greens. I've been working a lot
with my coach of 10 years Per Nellbeck of the Kingsbacka Golf Club. I'm now
able to play different types of shots."

Like Gustafson, Inkster also got off to a flying start as she made five
birdies over the first eight holes. But after reaching the turn with a four
under 32, she failed to maintain her form on the back half and came home
with a level par 37.

"I just didn't get a finish, and I'm very disappointed with that," said
Inkster, a two-time champion in American this season.

"I had a four iron into 18 and hit a good putt but it just didn't go in. On
17 I hit a bad drive. There are a lot of birdies out there, but not taking
advantage of the last two par fives is disheartening. But I feel that I'm
striking the ball well and I'm happy with my overall position."
Iverson also expressed disappointment with her second round performance,
despite carding four birdies and a solitary bogey over the Birkdale links.
After starting with consecutive birdies on the first and second, Iverson
reached the turn at three under thanks to another birdie, from 15 feet, at
the par three 7th. She exchanged her only bogey of the day at the 13th,
where she three putted, with another birdie at the last for a level par
inward half.

"I was very disappointed with my round today, I made a lot of mistakes out
there," said Iverson, currently 35th on the LPGA moneylist.

"I hit a lot of bad clubs, made a lot of wrong decisions and got a couple of
lucky breaks, and I was happy for that. I was expecting some of the bounces
I had yesterday and not getting them; expecting a few that sit to take off
and not really judging what the ball is going to do.

"But I'm hanging in there. I felt I should have shot five under today, but
you always leave some (birdies) out there."

Scotland's Marshall kept the British challenge alive by firing a four under
par 69 that included three birdies on the front nine and two coming home,
both of which came on the closing two par fives.

For world number one Karrie Webb it proved to be a day she will want to
forget, though the Australian can at least take some heart from a fight-back
that began at the 13th hole and left her at three under the card.

Webb got off to an uncharacteristic start when she bogeyed the first, and
having failed to post one birdie in a two over front nine 38, her day went
from bad to worse at the 11th when she took a triple bogey seven after
finding a fairway bunker before needing four putts to get down.
But the winner of seven titles this season rejoined the hunt after posting
birdies at the 13th, 15th and 18th for a level par back nine.

"It was pretty greedy play at the first hole, a five wood long and right - I
didn't really need to do that," said Webb, looking for her third major
victory of the year.

"It's not really the best start you would like to have. But I had plenty of
chances out there - three putted six for par and that could have go things

"But that's just the way it goes. But I made a good fight back and that
gives me something to build on. I guess it was a pretty bad day - I had a
chance to birdie 17 and I didn't. I didn't play very well at all today and I
was lucky to get out of it what I did."

Sweden's Annika Sorenstam also had a disappointing round and dropped back
into a share of 23rd place on level par after carding a three over 76.

With the cut coming at four over par, defending champion Sherri Steinhauer
booked an early flight home to America. The winner of this event in 1998 and
1999 followed her first round 77 with a 75 today to finish at six over par.

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