The Loop

Women's British: Inkster Leads After Shooting a 65

SUNNINGDALE, England -- Unless nature conspires to create some cruel conditions lacking Thursday morning, the par-72 Old Course at Sunningdale Golf Club will play more like a par-68 course this week for the Ricoh Women's British Open. Anyone who wants to win the last LPGA major championship of the year better start making birdies early and not let up. Sort of like Juli Inkster did in the first round.

Inkster, who was so dismayed after missing the cut at the U.S. Women's Open she took three weeks off and seriously considered skipping both last week's Evian Masters, where she finished T-9, and the Women's British, took advantage of calm, cool conditions and soft greens to shoot a 65, tying the opening-round record for this tournament.

"I was playing so poorly I almost didn't go to France," Inkster said after her bogey-free round. "But my daughters would have killed me. They love that trip." Not only did she pick up a top-10 check at Evian, she asked her close friend Karrie Webb if her coach, Ian Triggs, would take a look at her swing.

"I told him to eat well and sleep well because I knew [we would practice a lot on Monday]," Inkster said. "It wasn't a major overhaul. We worked on my posture -- I was getting a little saggy -- and we worked on getting the club to come back down on the same path." The swing repeated impressively on Thursday.

Among the highlights of Inkster's round, she drove the 273-yard ninth hole and rolled in an 18-footer for eagle. "I was pleasantly surprised when I teed the ball up on No. 1 and it went straight," she said with a smile. "I hit the ball great today. I'm not saying I'm going to play like this every day, but I hit the ball great today."

If Inkster, 48, should keep it up for four rounds she would become the oldest woman to win a major championship, the oldest to win an LPGA event and would join Webb as the only players to complete the Super Slam -- five major championships.

Webb won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the McDonald's LPGA Championship, the U.S. Women's Open and the DuMaurier Classic, which was replaced as a major by the Women's British Open in 2001, which she won in 2002. Inkster has the first four.

Asked if the victory last week at the Evian Masters by 43-year-old Helen Alfredsson inspired her, Inkster said: "Helen never inspires me. You can put that in bold print. It's great to see someone in her 40s win, but I had my own issues to work out."

If Alfredsson, who opened with a 69 at Sunningdale, was a popular winner last week at Evian, a victory this week by Inkster would be off the charts. As Hall of Fame players go in any sport, there are few who are as down to earth. After her round she was more interested in what moves were being made as the baseball trading deadline loomed than she was in who was where on the leader board at Sunningdale.

"I really love the game," Inkster said when asked if retirement was anywhere on her radar screen. "I go out and play for fun." She did say competing next year was a question mark and talked about wanting to coach high school golf. But does anyone really think Inkster would step away in a Solheim Cup year?

Can Inkster get it done this week at Sunningdale? Absolutely. Throw in her three consecutive U.S. Women's Amateur titles and she has won 10 major championships. She knows how to win. She also has her own unique perspective on what tough is, and on what's important.

"I was in Portland some years back and Corey [her now 14-year-old daughter] had an ear infection and a temperature of 102," Inkster recalled. "We went to the emergency room and were there until 7:30 the next morning, and I had like a 9:20 tee time. I don't remember what I shot, but I probably played well because I was in a fog and I wasn't thinking. I do remember the ER doctor walked all 18 holes with me."

Inkster's older daughter, Hayley, 18, starts college at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles this fall, and Corey starts high school a week later. "Now I have to worry about them coming home at night -- especially in France," she says, with a laugh.

Inkster had one great career before putting it in idle for six years to get her two daughters off on the right foot. Then she came back to have another great career. She's still playing very well, and don't believe her when she says the end is in sight -- at least not this week.

--Ron Sirak