HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Lorena Ochoa wanted to open the McDonald's LPGA Championship with a solid round that left her close to the leaders, but her wish was almost lost yesterday in the high fescue off the 13th fairway at Bulle Rock.
Ochoa, seeking her third consecutive victory in a major championship, found waist-high rough way to the left with her tee shot at 13 - her fourth hole of the day. She passed on taking an unplayable lie because two club lengths would have kept her in the tall stuff.
So she walked back 50 to 60 yards and took a drop in the rough on the adjoining 11th hole, keeping her original lie on a line between the 13th hole and where she eventually dropped. Ochoa scrambled to a double bogey, which turned out to be the only pothole on her road to the round she was seeking.
The world's No. 1 player rallied for five birdies after her adventures at 13, and her 3-under-par 69 put her well within striking distance of first-round coleaders Lorie Kane and Emily Bastel, both of whom fired 66s.
"That's one of the things I've been working on," the 26-year-old Ochoa said, "to get a good start so I'm not too far behind and then just work really hard the next three days. It's been even better, for sure. That makes a big difference.
"Today was important to do that, just not to get away too far from the leaders. That's why I'm so happy that I did 3 under for the first day of a major. It's good, even though I had the double bogey, and hopefully tomorrow I'll have a great round."
Ochoa has never won the LPGA but has played well, finishing between fifth and ninth place in each of the last four years. She was 4 shots behind after last year's opening round and 6 shots back at the halfway point, meaning her closing 69-69 did not enable her to put any pressure on champion Suzann Pettersen. Ochoa finished sixth.
Yesterday, she regrouped after her double at 13. Of her five birdies, the highlight came at No. 18 - her ninth hole - when she drained a 50-foot putt. After making the turn, she converted a pair of 12-footers for birdie and wrapped up her binge with a 20-footer at No. 8.
"I had to fight hard and do some catch-up, and I did it," she said. "I played very solidly, gave myself a lot of great chances, took advantage of the par 5s. Hopefully I can be more aggressive and shoot lower" today.
Given her record this season, during which she has six victories in nine events and more than $1.8 million atop the earnings list, Ochoa appears prepared to threaten from anywhere. Certainly, those in front of her will know exactly where she is.
Which brings us to the coleaders, neither of whom is ranked in the top 100 money winners this season.
Kane, a devoted hockey fan from Prince Edward Island in the Canadian Maritimes, has four career victories but none since 2001. Bastel, a Michigan State graduate, played for two years on the LPGA Tour, lost her card, and then regained it last year on the developmental Futures Tour.
Kane, who had six birdies and no bogeys, said she sort of compared herself to the inexperienced Pittsburgh Penguins at the start of her season, even though she is 44 and spending her 13th year on tour.
She said the Penguins "were tight . . . They'd never been there.
"If I can put that into my golf game, I started the season like I was a rookie," she said. "I was quite nervous trying to make cuts. I'm not here to make cuts. I'm here to win tournaments. Once I decided that was going to be the way it was, then I got out of my own way."
More than two inches of rain on Wednesday left the course soaking wet, which compelled LPGA officials to allow the players to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairway. They also moved up the tee boxes at the ninth and 18th, easing the burden on those two difficult holes.
The changes helped. Fifty-seven players broke par, including former champions Annika Sorenstam (70), Se Ri Pak (70), Karrie Webb (71) and Pettersen (71).