McPherson, Kim lead windswept Kraft

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The powerful desert wind that tore through the Coachella Valley on Friday blew a new set of players to the top of the leaderboard of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

The strong gusts made some players such as defending champion Lorena Ochoa lose their balance, sent a sharp palm frond into Angela Stanford’s ankle and frustrated Ji Young Oh by blowing her ball some 30 feet off the 18th green and into a lake, leading to a one-stroke penalty.

Stanford questioned whether the course was unplayable, but officials said they didn’t feel conditions got to that point.

Although the wind helped knock first-round leader Brittany Lincicome back a few shots, she was still in contention — and feeling fortunate.

“I survived,” Lincicome said after her round of 74, which was eight shots worse than her opening 66.

Kristy McPherson and Christina Kim teed off well before the wind started gusting and jumped into the lead at 6-under 138 at the halfway point of the LPGA’s first major of the season.

McPherson shot a 70, and Kim had a 69 at Mission Hills, where palm trees swayed and flags snapped in the breeze. McPherson was two shots off the lead Thursday, while Kim was three back.

Cristie Kerr also teed off in the morning and shot a 68 to finish at 5 under.

Lincicome was at 4 under, while Jimin Kang and Lindsey Wright were at 3 under.

Stanford shot a 75, leaving her at 2 under with Paula Creamer, Helen Alfredsson and Pat Hurst, who won here in 1998. Michelle Wie struggled with her putting and shot an 81 to finish at 8 over and make the cut by a stroke.

The top-ranked Ochoa shot her second straight 73 and was tied for 26th at 2 over. The Mexican star was 3 under for her round through 11 holes before finishing with four bogeys.

“It was close to being really, really good, but the way I finished, I am very disappointed,” Ochoa said. “I know they are playing tough, but I just missed a few important chances. It was a tough day. If you see the big picture, I’m happy with my score.”

The slightly built Ochoa said the wind affected “everything.”

“From the tee, it was important to hit good drivers, which I did, which I’m even more upset because I was in good position on certain holes, but I couldn’t control my swing,” Ochoa said. “With so much wind I kept losing my balanced.”

Ochoa said the wind contributed to her bogey on the par-4 16. Her 139-yard approach shot through a crosswind she estimated at 24 mph fell short of the green and landed in the right rough.

“I lost my balance and hit the ball to the right,” she said.

LPGA official Doug Brecht said the wind built through the afternoon, from a constant 10-20 mph at noon to 20-30 mph from 2 p.m. on. He said it was 31 mph at 5 p.m.

Brecht said he positioned himself at the 18th green all afternoon because that was where there was the most difficulty with balls moving. He said he was in constant conversation with other rules officials all day.

“In our opinion the golf course played very, very difficult, very tough, but it was still playable and that’s why we made the decision never to suspend play,” he said.

Stanford wondered whether the course was unplayable.

“I don’t really know what unplayable is. I think if balls are rolling off greens, it probably is unplayable. But until like the last three or four holes, it really started to feel like, “Hmmm, I don’t know if we should be out here.’ “

She said her playing partner, Louise Friberg, had a putt lip out and roll back 8 feet.

The hardest part was hitting into the greens, Stanford said.

“Obviously they were getting a lot more firm, and just the rollout,” Stanford said. “I mean, you could hit the green and it could roll out to the back. So that was the hard part, do you hit it short? Do you hit on the green and let it go?”

Stanford said a palm frond blew into her ankle on the 16th green.

“It’s still burning a little bit. I didn’t know those hurt so bad

Brecht said the wind affected four balls on the 18th green and between five and 10 overall.

Oh ended up with a double-bogey on 18.

Brecht said Oh marked her ball, replaced it, backed up from the ball which then rolled into the water, leading to a one-stroke penalty. She chose to go back and play it from the previous spot.

“When the player places her ball back in position, it’s in play,” Brecht said. “And if the wind subsequently blows it to a new position, that’s where the ball’s going to played from.”

Had the ball been blown into the cup, it would have been counted as being holed on the previous shot, Brecht said.

“Unfortunately, this time it rolled into the hazard, so we had to proceed with the one-stroke penalty.”

Oh finished with a 78 and was tied for 18th at 1 over

Lincicome, who was playing with Oh, said she had marked her ball since Oh was away. Lincicome said the wind blew Oh’s ball from the middle of the green all the way back to the front and into the water.

“Mine was safe in my pocket,” Lincicome said. “I had go through her ruling and then hit mine, so my caddie and I kind of talked about, we’re going to hit my practice strokes, and then the second I put my ball down, I just hit it.”

Players who teed off in the morning had relatively tame conditions.

“Yeah, I was counting my blessings for a good tee time,” McPherson said. “That’s part of the game.

“The back nine started getting a little breezy and I made two bogeys back-to-back on two and three, both of them because of poor tee balls into the wind and you let the wind take it away a little bit, which I think is going to be the hardest part out here,” said McPherson, who started her round on No. 10.

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