Inkster shows Wie age is no barrier

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The Independent Online

Juli Inkster has a daughter the same age as Michelle Wie. The 46-year-old also happened to have an early three-stroke lead in this Women's British Open. So much for golf being a young lady's game.

In fact, Inkster took her veritable walking stick to a number of other golfing myths in her six-under spectacular yesterday, not least the even more insulting one that "women cannot chip". The Californian has always been considered one of the finest practitioners around the greens and here was the reason why.

One eagle, six birdies and the solitary bogey at the 18th were the bare facts of her card; but the manner in which she got that ball down the little hole provided the blessed detail. "If someone had offered me a 66 I would have gone to the bar and watched it," she said. "This is one tough golf course."

In truth, Lytham was there for the taking, with the slight breeze and sunny conditions making an irrelevance of the windswept preparations. Indeed, perhaps that is what made the early starters so hesitant as the favourites loitered around par and gave up an awful lot of ground to this experienced pacesetter in the process.

Wie, on two over, might not remember Inkster in her prime, but Annika Sorenstam most definitely will and was furious after a double-bogey, bogey finish left her six behind. Recently, she asked Inkster, a dedicated wife and mother of two: "What makes you keep playing out here?" On afternoons like this, the answer is obvious.

Because there are still targets for Inkster to take aim at, even if she did pass the $10m mark for career earnings earlier this year.

The "British" is the only major she has not won and she would become the oldest female ever to prevail in a major if she could add to her haul of seven. "I don't want to get too gooey, but it would mean a lot," said Inkster. To her girls, as well.

Inkster admitted Hayley, 16, and Cori, 12, are fans of Wie, but will still recall how upset their mother was when her caddie of 12 years, Greg Johnston, dumped her to carry the bag of their fellow schoolgirl.

Not that Johnston would necessarily have been searching for the receipt for his old-for-new swap last night. If this was hardly the start she had dreamt of (if, that is, Wie had any time to dream - the poor girl was up at 4.30am for her 7.36am tee-off) then her approach to the 18th reminded all of the fantasy-land this phenomenon can operate in.

On a day when more than 11,000 shots were struck, this punched five-iron from 170 yards to two feet stood out, not simply because this perfect links play belied her inexperience on seaside courses, but more so because of its Tiger-esque timing in stopping a drama from turning into a crisis.

Wie spent most of her morning having to use all of her 6ft 1in frame just to see out of the 196 bunkers littered around Lytham - "I don't want to remember how many I went into," she said - but just when her challenge seemed about to be buried in the sand, she made two immensely impressive par saves on the 14th and 15th to set up the birdie finish that allowed her "to escape" with a 74.

"I just couldn't get going, I felt half-alive first thing," said Wie, referring to the three bogeys in her first three holes. "But don't worry, I'll play good tomorrow - I have a late tee-time."

Weetabix Women's British Open (Royal Lytham & St Annes) Leading first-round scores (GB unless stated): 66 J Inkster (US). 69 S Cavalleri (It), M Hjorth (Swe). 70 A Hanna (US), N Reis (Swe), G Nocera (Fr). 71 C Amanuma (Japan), J Granada (Par), C Kim (US) A Miyazato (Japan), C Kerr (US), W Ward (US), N Anghern (Swit), R Hetherington (Aus), L Wright (Aus). 72 Lee Jee Young (S Kor), H Young (US), I Maconi (It), S Yokomine (Japan), L Davies, N Gulbis (US), A Iijima (Japan), Yang Young-A (S Kor), S Lee (S Kor), K Icher (Fr), C Kung (Taiw), A Sorenstam (Swe), P Creamer (US), K Tamulis (US), Chung Il Mi (S Kor). 73 Joo Mi Kim (S Kor), J Morley, K Stupples, B Bader (US), E Serramia Neundorf (Sp), L Kane (Can), B Mozo (Sp), T Lu (Taiw), B Daniel (US), L Brooky (NZ), Kyeong Eun Bae (S Kor), S Steinhauer (US), N Castrale (US). Selected: 74 M Wie (US).