RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – New clubs and a familiar setup have Morgan Pressel liking her chances this week at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Pressel is now in the middle of the pack when it comes to driving distance on the LPGA, instead of being one of the tour’s shortest hitters. She’s gained distance after switching her irons and driver last week.
Contrary to what first-round scores indicate, Mission Hills Country Club’s Dinah Shore course is playing tough again this year, much like it did when Pressel won here three years ago.
She shot just 3 under par in ‘07, good for a one-shot victory. Eleven under and 9 under have been the winning scores the past two years.
“It’s playing tougher than it has the past couple years, that’s for sure,” said Pressel, who opened with a “frustrating” 71. “The pins were a little easier today, which is why scores were lower, but as the week continues, I think the scores won’t be quite as low.”
That fact is confirmed by the presence of three of the main characters from the ‘07 Kraft’s drama on this year’s leaderboard.
Suzann Pettersen shot 67 Thursday, good for a one-stroke lead after the first round; she authored a memorable Kraft collapse in ‘07, playing her final three holes in 4 over to lose by one. Stacy Lewis, who tied for fifth as an amateur in that Kraft, also shot 71 Thursday after making the turn in 33.
Brittany Lincicome, the defending champion, shot 70 Thursday after a bad start to her season; she tied for second here in ‘07.
The rough is thick, and greens are firm, this week, which could make the final leaderboard look more like a U.S. Open. Pettersen hit the ball so well that the rough was irrelevant.
“I can’t really answer you about the rough,” she joked when a reporter asked about the thick stuff. Pettersen hit all 14 fairways and missed just two greens.
Regarding the greens, Pettersen said, “They’re definitely firmer than in the past.”
Pettersen finished in the top 3 in the season’s first two events, but a hip injury kept her from playing a round until the pro-am for last week’s Kia Classic, where she tied for 52nd. The rust appears to have been knocked off.
Pettersen also likes this golf course. She has finished T2-T2-T5 in the past three Krafts. She was bogey-free Thursday. The course’s demanding driving holes suit her game.
“There’s just certain tee shots you just gotta take on,” Pettersen said. “And I think if you can place it off the tee, I think you’re in a very good position.
Pressel obviously has good memories here. This was the site of her first LPGA victory. She’s won just once in the three years since, at the ‘08 Kapalua Classic.
Pressel’s chances improve greatly whenever there’s a penalty for missing the fairway. Besides her Kraft victory, she was second at the ‘05 U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills, where 3 over par was the winning score.
Pressel hit 10 of 14 fairways Thursday (71 percent), but Pressel, one of the tour’s straightest hitters, was unhappy with that number. She’s hitting the ball about 10-15 yards farther since switching to a 45 1/2-inch Diablo driver. It’s one-half inch shorter than the driver she started the season with. Longer-shafted clubs are supposed to go farther, but Pressel said she can control the new driver better.
Pressel is tied for 68th in driving distance this year after finishing 130th in the category last year.
She also switched to Callaway’s Diablo Forged irons from the company’s X-Forged model. “It’s a little tough this week trying to figure out how far they go,” she said. “I did a good job guessing today.”
She made both equipment changes last week.
A spectator fainted while Pressel was over her birdie putt on No. 9, her final hole of the day. Pressel waited several minutes while the spectator was attended to. Pressel just missed the 10-footer.
“I’m glad she’s OK,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to get (at a major).”
This is true, but there are several familiar faces on the leaderboard.