Stupples shakes off nerves to soar ahead

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The Independent Online

Karen Stupples, of Kent, has enjoyed only one day better on a golf course than yesterday. In March Stupples closed with a 63 to win her first tournament as a professional. Yesterday the 31-year-old from Deal opened the Women's British Open here with a seven-under-par 65.

This has been a memorable breakthrough season for Stupples, but she could not have been happier than to lead a quality field in her national championship in front of a number of friends and supporters.

She led by two strokes from South Korea's Jung Yeon Lee. Three strokes behind were a group including Annika Sorenstam, the world No 1, Scotland's Catriona Matthew and 21-year-old American Natalie Gulbis.

Stupples has endured a hard road to become an overnight success. She played in the Curtis Cup as an amateur but her golf developed in the States, first at college and then as a struggling professional.

To get to America Stupples sold her furniture, one of a number of sacrifices made by herself and her family. "I have worked hard and done well because of that, but whether I deserve any success due to the tough times, I don't know," she said.

Her supporters' run up from Kent was probably easier than her journey from her Bracknell hotel to the course. A 15-minute drive took nearer 50 due to the traffic chaos in the area.

"I was nervous at the start," she admitted. "I wanted to play well over here for everyone. It was a bit shaky on the front nine, but I pulled through."

She did not drop a stroke and by the 18th was able to gaze at the leaderboard and see the progression of her score as she hit seven birdies, including three in the last five holes.

A fitness routine helped Stupples add 20 yards in the off-season but rather than blaze away with the driver, yesterday her power enabled her to plot her way around with a four-wood. It is the golf that Sorenstam plays but while making the same number of birdies, the Swede also made three bogeys, two of them from three-putting.

Gulbis, 21 from Lake Las Vegas, is in her third season and has yet to win. The last few weeks, apparently, have been taken up with promoting her 2005 calendar, which includes shots of her in a range of outfits. Initial sales are said to be up with the Playboy Pamela Anderson and Anna Kournikova calendars, despite Gulbis's being considered too provocative to be sold at the US Open.

WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN (Sunningdale) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 65 K Stupples. 67 Jung Yeon Lee (S Kor). 68 C Matthew, A Sorenstam (Swe), N Gulbis (US), M Blomqvist (Fin), B Haürt (Ger). 69 B Daniel (US), Seol-An Jeon (S Kor), J Moodie, A Eathorne (Can), N Taylor (Aus), C Kerr (US), L Ochoa (Mex). 70 C Koch (Swe), B Brewerton, M Redman (US), H Bowie (US), G Nocera (Fr), B King (US), Jeong Jang (S Kor), L Davies, T Kimura (Japan), L Diaz (US), P-M Lebouc (Fr), A Sanchez (Sp), A Bunch (US), R Teske (Aus), M Estill (US). 71 Grace Park (S Kor), J Inkster (US), J McGill (US), W Doolan (Aus), J Morley, Soo-Yun Kang (S Kor), *L Stahle (Swe), K Kuehne (US). *denotes amateur.