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Bastel puts on major performance at McDonald's LPGA Championship

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Emily Bastel has played in six previous women's majors. She's never made the cut in any. The 27-year-old's best finish in her first 55 LPGA tournaments is a tie for ninth. In 2005.

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Emily Bastel has played in six previous women's majors. She's never made the cut in any. The 27-year-old's best finish in her first 55 LPGA tournaments is a tie for ninth. In 2005.

So naturally, she has a share of the lead after 18 holes of the McDonald's LPGA Championship at rain-softened Bulle Rock Golf Course, where she never broke 72 in her two prior appearances. Bastel, who did win twice a year ago on the Futures Tour, shot a 6-under-par 66, a new career low.

Did we mention that she's battling a cold, and teed off at 7:37 in the morning?

"I think that helped me to just kind of stay patient out there," said Bastel, who's tied with Lorie Kane, one stroke ahead of Lindsey Wright and two in front of five others, none of whom are Lorena Ochoa or Annika Sorenstam. "I was actually surprisingly calm. I can't say that it will be like that all week. I feel so lousy, it was like I was worried about that more than anything else. Sometimes I guess that can be a blessing in disguise."

Because of the sogginess, they were playing lift, clean and place in the fairways, something you won't see the USGA do at next week's men's Open even if Torrey Pines falls into the Pacific Ocean. But we digress.

"A couple of times today I was embarrassed," said Bastel, who had six birdies and no bogeys. "I had like these coughing fits. I couldn't stop."

When you're 104th on the money list, whatever works. Especially in the land of the quarter pounder.

"It's exciting to have this happen," said Bastel, who opened and closed with a bird. "Early in the week, you just try to enjoy it and keep going . . .

"I'll probably take a nap this afternoon and be able to sleep in tomorrow [when she plays in the afternoon], so I have some energy left by the end of the week."

Sure beats departing early. Pass the NyQuil.

Kane, who's 16 years older, has four victories on her resume, but none since 2001. Her best finish in a major was a pair of fourths at the U.S. Open in 1999 and 2005. Her best finish at McDonald's was a tie for 12th in 2001, when it was still held at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del.

Since the event moved farther down I-95 3 years ago, the best she's done is a 46th in 2005.

"It's not that I dislike this course," said Kane, who started on No. 10 and also carded six birds. "I guess it's that I liked DuPont so much. This is a beautiful property, don't get me wrong. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to the setup of golf courses.

"I think you just decide that you're here, and you're going to play what you're faced [with]. I knew it was in me, and I have a lot more of those and I know it's a long way to Sunday, but I'm encouraged by what's been happening the last few weeks."

After missing seven of nine cuts, she's earned two straight checks. Even opened 70-68 last week in South Carolina, before closing with twin 75s.

"I think I was just trying too hard," Kane admitted. "I was making it a big deal. I just decided, this is ridiculous. I've been out here way too long to be beating myself up. It is a game we are playing. I was working golf. You have to find a way to get out [of that]."

Ochoa is one of nine at 69, despite suffering a double-bogey at the par-4 13th, her fourth hole, after she pulled her drive way left and was forced to take a penalty because of an unplayable lie. The best female player on the planet has, of course, won the last two majors.

She's never been better than fifth here. That could change.

"I didn't get too stressed [about the double]," the pride of Mexico said. "I feel good just to be on the scoreboard. All of a sudden, I had to fight hard to do some catch-up. Tomorrow, hopefully I can shoot lower.

"I'm not too far behind. That makes a big difference."

Sorenstam is among the 18 at 70, a group that also includes Se Ri Pak, who like Annika has won this thing three times. Pak's third came 2 years ago. Sorenstam, who's retiring at the end of the season, won three in a row beginning in 2003.

"Hit the ball beautifully," Sorenstam said. "Just didn't make some putts, unfortunately. I'm very happy.

"You get no roll off the tee. [But] you fire at the pins . . . I'm not going to worry about where I'm at [right now]. I just want to continue to play the way I'm doing, and look forward to a great week. I'm trying not to think about [this being her last McDonald's]."

In a perfect world, it will be Ochoa and Sorenstam in the last pairing on Sunday. If even one of those two make it, that wouldn't be a shabby consolation prize.

Looking at the leaderboard, neither is too much of a stretch.

That's why there are first days, and Sundays. *