-- Another big, booming thunderstorm stopped play for 43 minutes at the U.S. Women's Open Friday afternoon, and the pause in action might have been the best development of the day for Annika Sorenstam, trying to win her third straight major championship of the season and keep alive her hopes for a possible Grand Slam.
In the second round at Cherry Hills Country Club, she watched at least five birdie putts graze the cup and another stop one roll short of the hole. Sorenstam ended her frustrating afternoon with three straight bogeys and found herself six shots off the lead when she posted a 75 and 4-over total of 146. She'll start Saturday in 22nd place, trailing Nicole Perrot, a 21-year-old Chilean in her third season as a professional.
"We have 36 holes left and anything can happen," said Sorenstam, who has won six of her eight starts this season but had her highest score of the year Friday. "You've got to make some putts. If I'd done that today, it would have been a different story. There are birdies out there. I'm going to try to find them tomorrow. If I'd finished with three pars, I probably would have been ecstatic."
Playing one group ahead of Sorenstam, Perrot took the 36-hole lead with her second straight 70, leaving her at 2-under 140 and the only player in the field under par for the tournament when she made a five-foot putt at the 18th to save par. She had a two-shot lead on 15-year-old amateur Michelle Wie, who played in the morning and posted 73 -- 142, and Mexican Lorena Ochoa, who was paired with Sorenstam and came in with the best round of the tournament, a 3-under 68 that included a 50-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole.
When players were pulled off the course late in the day, 18-year-old Paula Creamer's meteoric rise up the leader board came to a dead stop. Six over par for 22 holes when she double-bogeyed the fourth hole early in her round, Creamer played her next nine in 8 under, including an eagle from the fairway at the 414-yard 10th hole.
But when the session resumed, Creamer had cooled considerably.
She bogeyed three of her last five holes, with a four-foot miss for par at the 15th and three putts from 50 feet at the 17th. She ended with a 69 -- 143, still only three off the lead and tied for fourth place.
Three weeks removed from her high school graduation, Creamer could be seen wiping away tears on the 17th green after her three-putt bogey. Still, at least she managed to regain her composure at the difficult 459-yard uphill 18th hole, sinking a difficult 18-foot putt that saved par and brought a bit of a smile to her face. Only three birdies have been recorded at 18 this week on the longest par 4 in Open history.
Creamer said she was bothered by stomach pain that started at No. 9 and didn't go away until the weather delay. She said she probably "drank too much Gatorade, but I fought through it. That [par at 18] was a good way to finish the day. I know I can make birdies out here. If anything, this day proves I can play under par on this golf course."
Sorenstam has had similar hot streaks over the years, but not on this day when winds whipped in from the nearby Rockies as she was in the middle of a round that included two bogeys and only one birdie on her first 10 holes. When she came back from the delay, the wind had died down but she still couldn't buy a putt, missing several birdie putts down the stretch that could have pushed her closer to the lead. She had 35 putts Friday and only one one-putt green.
Wie had to come back early Friday morning to finish off her storm-delayed first round. The runner-up two weeks ago at the LPGA Championship in Maryland, Wie birdied the second of three holes she had to play starting at 7 a.m. and officially became one of four 18-hole co-leaders, all at 2-under 69.
Wie struggled a bit in her second round as greens continued to firm up and pins were placed in precarious places all around the course. Hardly anyone else made any sort of morning move, though Rachel Hetherington shot 69 -- 143 to share fourth place.
Wie managed only one birdie in the second round. She finally got it on her last hole of the day when her 7-iron to the 418-yard No. 9 spun and stopped dead about a foot from the flag. Still, she had no complaints save for a 4:15 a.m. wakeup call. And she firmly believes she can become the youngest player to win this tournament, by five years. Korean Se Ri Pak was 20 when she won the Open in 1998.
"It was tougher in the second round," Wie said. "My putting felt good, but I just read [the greens] a little bit wrong here and there. [Pins] were a lot more tucked in, a lot more back, so it was a little tougher. But I don't really think it was the pin positions. I just didn't execute very well."
Asked if she felt she was ready to win here, she never hesitated. "I'm ready," she said. "I feel like I'm playing well enough and as long as I make a couple more putts, play a little more consistently, if I play under par, I think I have a good chance. . . . I could have shot some ridiculous numbers today, but I kept my head and I made a couple of good par putts and I think that kept me going."
One of the day's major falls came about 20 minutes before the weather delay. Sophie Gustafson of Sweden was at 1 under through 26 holes when she came to the 18th. She hit her first drive in the pond between the tee and dry land, then re-loaded, and hooked her second drive into the water as well.
She re-teed one more time, hitting her fifth shot, and finally got it on the fairway. Gustafson went on to record a 9. To her credit, she birdied her next hole, but added a triple bogey and finished with 78 -- 149, nine shots off the lead.