SUNNINGDALE, England -- If there is any golf course where following the proper path is essential, it is the Sunningdale Golf Club. Find the route and stick to it, and you can go low. This inland links course is hash-marked by cross-bunkers and heather-covered hills slashing willy-nilly across the fairways. Stay out of that stuff and birdies can be abundant at this week's Ricoh Women's British Open, as they have been in the past.
The fickle nature of a links layout was demonstrated by the conflicting results Thursday by Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam on the 485-yard par-5 first hole. Ochoa drove into the right rough about one yard from being unplayable. Then her pitch back to the fairway appeared headed for the tangled rough on the hill crossing the fairway when it bounced fortuitously to the left. Taking advantage of that break, she played her approach to 25 feet and made the birdie putt.
Sorenstam, playing in the following group, also drove into the right rough and her punch-out attempt didn't make it back to the short grass. She punched out again but could only play it across the fairway short of the green. She then pitched on to 25 feet and missed the par putt. After a bogey on No. 3, Sorenstam was two over on an easy opening stretch -- two par 5s and a short par 4 -- after which a player should be one under, at worst.
Ochoa made it home in three-under 69, while Sorenstam, playing what could very well be her last major, rallied with two birdies on the back nine for a 72. With all four par 5s reachable in two -- a couple with mid-irons -- and the 273-yard par-4 ninth drivable, it's going to take four rounds well below 69 to win. Karen Stupples won here at 19 under par in 2004 as did Karrie Webb in 1997, before it was a major. The highest winning score at Sunningdale was 11-under-par 277 by Se Ri Pak in 2001, the first year the Women's British was a major and when the weather was nasty.