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August 1, 2009

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Gal fires 69 for surprise lead at British Open

SANDRA Gal of Germany snatched the lead in the Women's British Open with a 3-under 69 in Lytham St Annes, England, on Thursday.

At 9:15pm and the end of a round lasting almost six hours, Gal chipped from greenside rough at the last hole over a mound to about a foot from the flag and holed for a brilliant par. That left her a shot clear of Angela Stanford and Song-Hee Kim, who carded 70s earlier.

Stanford birdied the last from 30 feet while Kim, one of 29 South Koreans in the championship, made a birdie on 18 from 20 feet.

"That probably ranks pretty high for me," Gal said.

"They were very tough conditions, but I felt I played steady and kept my ball in the fairway most of the time.

"And that shot at the last was very nice. I just tried to get it as high up in the air as I could and it just landed perfect. It could not have been better."

After her late finish, the 24-year-old Gal was not getting carried away with her position. "You don't win majors in the first round but it's always nice to be on top," she said. "There's a lot of golf to be played and I'm looking forward to it."

Gal won four tournaments playing for the University of Florida before she graduated in advertising this year and had a career-best tie for fifth in the Corning Classic in May. She had five birdies in her round, including the 15th and 17th holes which gave her the lead.

Stanford, who won the SPS Open in Hawaii at the start of the year, and Kim were a stroke clear of Yuko Mitsuka of Japan and Park Hee-young on a day when stiff winds on the back nine at Royal Lytham and St Annes made scoring difficult.

Michelle Wie coped well to shoot a 1-over 73. Paula Creamer carded a 2-over 74 without a birdie on her card.

Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa shot a 3-over 75, US LPGA Tour money-leader Cristie Kerr had 76, and defending champion Shin Ji-yai returned a 77.

Stanford handled the conditions superbly with an eagle and two birdies to offset two late bogeys, playing the back nine in level par. She credits her early success to an unusual preparation for the tournament.

She opted to go to Rome for two days on Sunday. She returned on Wednesday for a single practice round.

"I always wanted to go to Rome, so I just decided to go. It was even better than I hoped for," she said. "I was better off just playing one round because I played here in 2003 and 2006 and I know the course."

She eagled the seventh with a 242-yard 3-wood to the front of the green and a 66-foot putt. Her first birdie came on a 10-footer at the 12th. She three-putted No. 15 and chipped poorly at No. 17 for bogeys, but rolled in a 30-footer at the last.


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