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Amateur Steals The Show

Lincicome, 18, Charges To 5-Under For Lead

By Ken Klavon, USGA

South Hadley, Mass. - A teenager is leading the field at the 59th Women's Open, but this prodigy isn't named Paula or Michelle.

Eighteen-year-old amateur Brittany Lincicome grabbed the outright lead at 5-under-par 66 on The Orchards' 6,473 par-71 layout. This week Paula Creamer, 17, and Michelle Wie, 14, were labeled as favorites coming in. But it was the home-schooled Lincicome of Seminole, Fla., who stole the show Thursday with five birdies and a bogey-free day of the morning groups that completed play.

Patricia Meunier-Lebouc of France birdied her final four holes to stand alone in second at 4-under 67. Five players shared the lead at 1-under 70. Two Australians, Michelle Ellis and Katherine Hull, were near the top of leader board along with Candie Kung, Michelle Redman and Kim Saiki.

Treading through the rough on the 12th hole, Michelle Wie searches for her ball. Wie went on to card a par. (Sam Greenwood/USGA)

Wie was tied with two-time Open winner Juli Inkster at even-par 71 after carding an eagle on the 527-yard par-5 ninth hole, her final hole of her round. Players endured a 33-minute suspension of play due to inclement weather. Then another one that began at 2:48p.m.

Yet it was Lincicome's round that caused more sparks. A magical back nine, which included an eagle and three birdies, catapulted her into the outright lead. Lincicome nearly became unglued after the tear-jerking eagle.

Overall, she played consistent, striking 71 percent of her fairways and 72 percent of the greens in regulation, and taking just 26 putts.

"I didn't think that I'd score this well, maybe 1 under, but not this," said a beaming Lincicome, who added that she is going to turn pro after the event.

On the eagle, she decided at the last minute to use driver at the 377-yard par-4 15th hole. In her two practice rounds she instead used 5-wood off the tee. Roughly 120-yards short of the hole, Lincicome punched a 7-iron from a wooded area toward the front of the green hoping to just get on. When she saw the ball disappear, she started crying.

"I was so nervous coming up 18," she said. "I just wanted to hit it straight because I'm an all-or-nothing player."

Streaky would be the word to describe Meunier-Lebouc's round. Beginning on No. 10, Meunier-Lebouc stumbled early with a double bogey on No. 12. It was no time to panic because in her two previous Opens she learned that mistakes can't be averted. After the early faux pas, she carded six birdies to no bogeys.

A 69 in the second round of last year's Women's Open gave Meunier-Lebouc a brief share of the lead before going on to tie for 13th.

After the double bogey she hunkered down and concentrated more, visualizing each putt as the most important one of the championship. "My routine was so much better that I told myself the putting would come. Soon after, it came," said Meunier-Lebouc, who one-putted eight times after the double bogey.

Yet the ghost of Donald Ross had to be smiling. As a bevy of players with morning tee times signed their scorecards, many of them labeled the greens as perplexing.

Playing in her fifth Open Ellis, who has never held the lead at any point, went bogey-free over her final 11 holes. But it wasn't easy, she said, citing tricky greens that can clutter the mind at wrong moments.

"Donald Ross - he's 1 up on me at the moment," said the two-time Australian Amateur champion. "The greens aren't overly quick by any means. It's just really tough to read them."

Defending champion Hilary Lunke hits out of a bunker on the second hole, a hole she double bogeyed. (John Mummert/USGA)

Defending champion Hilary Lunke, grouped with last year's playoff trio at Pumpkin Ridge, got off to a dubious start on the front nine, bogeying and double bogeying the first two holes. After being 3-over at the turn thanks to an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 9, Lunke reeled off four more birdies to finish at 1-over 72.

The highlights had to be birdie putts on the 13th and 17th holes. Pitching in to 13, Lunke's ball rolled to the back fringe before she converted a 20-footer. Then after sticking a 5-iron approach shot to 18 feet of the hole on 17, she deftly knocked in an 18-footer.

Citing nerves on the first two holes, Lunke said she calmed herself with lots of self talk.

"In this [championship] I know there are going to be bogeys and double bogeys," she said. "I knew the birdies were going to come.

"I wasn't as comfortable as last year. Last year I felt as though I couldn't miss. I just told myself, 'Stay patient, stay patient, it's just golf. Right the ship.'"

For all her detractors, the specially-exempt Wie sent a message that she wasn't about to cave in. She capped off the round by driving the ball 307 yards in the fairway, leaving her about 220 to the hole. Grabbing a 5-wood from father B.J. Wie, who is caddieing for the first time since last year's Open, the prodigy watched as the ball came to a rest 9 feet from the hole.

On a course that won't give up much scoring this week, Wie needed it. On the previous hole, 388-yard par-4 eighth, one of the few holes tabbed as a scoring opportunity, Wie bogeyed it and sulked.

"I took a lot of stress out [on 18]," said Wie. "I felt really good after hitting that shot. It was better than punching your bag. After the eagle, I think I'll eat lunch better."

Ken Klavon is the Web Editor for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at kklavon@usga.org. David Shefter of the USGA contributed.