Pak surges into lead at Las Vegas

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The Independent Online

No longer under a spotlight so glaring it made her sick, Se Ri Pak quietly went about her business on Thursday and wound up with a 6-under 66 for a one-stroke lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour Championship in Las Vegas.

No longer under a spotlight so glaring it made her sick, Se Ri Pak quietly went about her business on Thursday and wound up with a 6-under 66 for a one-stroke lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour Championship in Las Vegas.

On a still, sunny day just off the Las Vegas Strip, Pak birdied five of the first seven holes on the back nine of the Desert Inn Golf Club, then capped her round with a solid save of par on the 18th hole.

Janice Moodie of Scotland birdied three of the last four holes for a 67, while six-time winner Karrie Webb got off to a solid start in her bid to clinch player of the year and smash the LPGA Tour's season scoring average.

Webb struggled coming in but still managed a 68 and was tied with Kelly Robbins and Lorie Kane. Juli Inkster, paired with Webb, bogeyed the final hole and was at 70.

The year has belonged almost exclusively to Webb and Inkster, who between them have won 11 tournaments and three of the four major championships. They also are the only two players to surpass $1 million in earnings.

Pak remembers what it was like to have everyone watching her every move. Just last year, she took the tour by storm as a 20-year-old by winning back-to-back majors and four times during a season that left her physically and emotionally spent.

She has won three times this year, but has been somewhat lost amid the success of Webb and Inkster.

"Did they forget about me? Maybe," Pak said, flashing a smile that showed how much control she has of her life. "This year, Julie and Karrie, it is their season. They play so good and play so strong. I don't mind trying to follow them. Having fun out there, all season. Feel more relaxed. Just enjoy it more."

When she is not overpowering a golf course, Pak has been making the transition to freedom from parents who "keep looking at me like little baby" and a Korean press that used to chronicle her every step.

She is cooking and doing her own laundry, making her own schedule and staying out as late as she wants. She no longer has an entourage around her to tell her what to do and when to do it.

Pak took control of her life by dumping swing coach David Leadbetter and firing her Korean manager, turning over her affairs to IMG.

"Everything is perfect. Better than last year," she said.

And, as she showed on Thursday, she can still play.

None of her six birdie putts was longer than eight feet, and had nothing more than a 9-iron for her approach shots on the back nine.

"Just every hole, I do my best," she said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it not work. But today, I just feel so good."

Webb has felt good all year. Along with winning six times and getting her first major championship in the du Maurier, she has only finished outside the top 10 in three out of 24 tournaments this year.

The result is a 69.45 scoring average, a mark so astounding that Webb could afford four rounds at 81 and still beat the record of 69.99 that Annika Sorenstam set last year.

"Now I can shoot an 85 one day," she said. "I'm not really thinking about that. Obviously, I want to play well this week, to have as low a scoring average as I possibly can and set the record ... and see how long it takes for someone to break it."

Winning is still a priority, the one way to assure the 24-year-old Australian her first player of the year award. Inkster, having a historic season in her own right, would have to win this week and Webb finish third or lower for the 39-year-old Californian to win player of the year.

Inkster was right there, tied for the lead at 4-under, until a three-putt from about 40 feet (12 meters) on the fringe at the 13th. She also botched a birdie chance on the par-5 15th when her bunker shot just made the fringe, and she closed with a bogey on the 18th.

Defending champion Laura Davies put a shot into the water on the 15th for a bogey and was at 71 and Kelli Kuehne was in the group at 72.

LPGA Tour Championship Scores after the first round of the Pagenet Championships, played on the 6,373-yard (5,799-meter), par 36-36-72 Desert Inn Golf Club course:

Se Ri Pak 35-31-66 Janice Moodie 33-34-67Karrie Webb 33-35-68 Kelly Robbins 34-34-68 Lorie Kane 33-35-68 Nancy Scranton 35-34-69 Juli Inkster 33-37-70 Rachel Hetherington 34-36-70 Jan Stephenson 37-34-71 Laura Davies 35-36-71 Becky Iverson 36-35-71 Maria Hjorth 36-35-71 Sherri Steinhauer 36-36-72 Catriona Matthew 37-35-72 Kelli Kuehne 35-37-72 Akiko Fukushima 35-37-72 Jenny Lidback 37-36-73 Cindy McCurdy 37-36-73 Rosie Jones 35-38-73 Beth Daniel 35-38-73 Annika Sorenstam 39-34-73 Mi Hyun Kim 35-38-73 Tina Barrett 39-35-74 Mardi Lunn 37-37-74 Emilee Klein 38-36-74 Helen Alfredsson 35-39-74 Meg Mallon 39-36-75 Liselotte Neumann 38-38-76 Helen Dobson 39-37-76 Sherri Turner 38-39-77