Sun, 06 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Els slips up in Dubai, Sorenstam back on tour

Agencies, Dubai

Ernie Els had a nightmare start to the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic here Saturday, four-putting from 20 feet on the first green.

It was an inexplicable lapse from the South African after he sent his birdie putt charging past the hole. He then slid his fourth past again and his fifth from three feet lipped out.

That left him four strokes behind playing-partner and tournament leader Juan Miguel Jimenez of Spain who made par despite finding a fairway bunker with his drive.

The 41-year-old Ryder Cup star, who has hit a golden patch of form over the last year, went ahead thanks to a seven-under-par 65 on Friday which leapfrogged him above first round leader and tournament favorite Els.

Els is seeking to become the first player to win three times in Dubai and also to kickstart his preparations for his prime focus, next month's Masters following a three-week break from he game.

"I feel my game is right there. I feel I need to break out of where I am now and I want to play well this week," Els said.

In Huixquilucan, Mexico, Annika Sorenstam shot a 2-under 70 on Friday in her first competitive round of the year, leaving her four strokes behind leader Han Hee-won in the MasterCard Classic, the first LPGA Tour event in Mexico since 1975.

"I thought it went well. I hit a lot of good shots. I hit 15 greens," said Sorenstam, the Swedish star who led the tour with eight victories last year. "I'm very happy with my start."

A morning breeze gave way to stronger gusts in the afternoon, complicating long approaches on the Bosque Real Country Club course.

"It was difficult to get some balls close because of the wind," Sorenstam said. "I thought the wind was tricky a few times."

Han, from South Korea, had seven birdies in a 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead over compatriot Young Jo. Han had five birdies on her opening nine holes, including three in a row on 14, 15 and 16. She had two bogeys after making the turn, but offset those with birdies on Nos. 1 and 3.

"My driving was pretty good and my putting was almost perfect today," said the 26-year-old Han, the Safeway Classic winner last year. "The greens are pretty fast, but I like fast greens."

Mexican star Lorena Ochoa opened with a 71, capped by a birdie on the final hole that sparked a massive cheer from the gallery.

"From the moment I arrived, there were so many fans supporting me," said Ochoa, from Guadalajara. "I'm grateful to all of them. I felt a lot of positive vibes that pushed me and gave me the desire to play well."