Cristie Kerr, 40, confident as ever as she takes commanding lead at Kia Classic

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Cristie Kerr, 40, confident as ever as she takes commanding lead at Kia Classic

LPGA Tour

Cristie Kerr, 40, confident as ever as she takes commanding lead at Kia Classic

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Cristie Kerr walks with authority everywhere she goes, even to the fitness trailer. She was headed there Friday afternoon at the Kia Classic to see the chiropractor. She had tape on her right hamstring from a minor sprain walking hilly Aviara Golf Club.

If there’s anything that makes the aching grind worthwhile, it’s winning. And at age 40, Kerr can’t get enough of it.

“Winning definitely invigorates anybody,” said Kerr, “especially somebody who is a little bit older. Knowing you can still win … the golf ball doesn’t know your age, right? It’s a mindset.”

Kerr won three times worldwide last season and holds a five-shot lead at 13-under 131 midway through the Kia after an 8-under 64. A trio of players sit at 8 under: Lizette Salas (67), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

Kerr won this event in 2015, setting a 72-hole scoring record of 20-under 268 that she now shares with 2017 champ Mirim Lee. Friday’s 131 total ties Kerr’s 36-hole low, set when she won the 2006 John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic.

At a time when over-40 players are scarce, 54-year-old Laura Davies dazzled in the desert last week by finishing tied for second. On Thursday at the Kia, she hobbled around to an 82, ultimately withdrawing after six holes on Friday with an injured Achilles tendon. Her left ankle bothered her as well in Phoenix, but she said she’d crawl around Wildfire Golf Club if she had to on Sunday to get into that winner’s circle.

“It’s tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,” said Kerr. “I put more focus into that as I’ve gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

Kerr’s victory at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia event last season gave her more than $19 million in career earnings, making her the top American money winner in LPGA history. The 20-time winner claimed her first LPGA title back in 2002.

Karen Stupples, a major winner turned Golf Channel analyst, said self-belief is the biggest factor in Kerr’s longevity.

“She trusts everything that she does on the golf course, and that’s never left her,” said Stupples. “And even when she hasn’t played well, the belief was still there, like it was always going to come back. She was never going to lose it for too long, particularly with the putter.”

One of the best putters in the game, Kerr’s green-reading skills come in particularly handy at Aviara, where she believes she can see subtleties that most people can’t.

“It’s a gift from God being able to do that,” said Kerr. “I’ve always had that, so I’m lucky.”

Her strong play on this course in particular, she said, comes from that fact that it demands focus. Kerr hit 16 greens and 11 fairways in the second round and took only 26 putts. Last season Kerr ranked 43rd in driving distance, an overlooked asset that Stupples said keeps Kerr in the mix longer than most.

Said Kerr: “I try not to put limits on myself.”

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