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To the Kraft Nabisco victor goes the antibiotics

By Associated Press
Published March 27, 2004

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Dottie Pepper hasn't been the same since the traditional winner's plunge at the Kraft Nabisco Championship five years ago left her with walking pneumonia and strange green stuff in her ears.

That doesn't mean she doesn't want to do it again. And if she keeps playing like she did Friday, Pepper might get a chance at another dive Sunday.

"I'll jump if that's the case and worry about starting antibiotics on Monday," Pepper said. "I hope we have that problem."

Pepper, helping carry the torch for veteran players in a tournament in which teenagers seem to shine, shot 2-under 70 Friday under difficult conditions to tie Jung Yeon Lee at 6 under after two rounds in the first major championship of the year.

Annika Sorenstam didn't handle the conditions as well, hitting it into the water for a double bogey on the final hole for 4-over 76 that damaged any chances she had of winning all four LPGA majors this year.

"A day like today just wears you out mentally," she said. "The wind really made it difficult, and I didn't make anything either.

The day was so long that Lee, whose best finish on tour is second, putted under palm trees framed by green lights on the 18th hole to finish her round of 69. Lee's playing partners in the final group marked their balls on the hole rather than finish.

Just happy to be healthy again after five years of various ailments, Pepper made only one bogey on a day when the wind gusted, the pace of play was excruciatingly slow and scores soared on the Dinah Shore tournament course at Mission Hills Country Club.

Petter and Lee were a stroke ahead of 17-year-old Aree Song (73) of Bradenton, who was the first-round leader after 66, Karrie Webb (71) and Wendy Doolan (69). Teenager Michelle Wie (72) was three back.

Pepper, who won here in 1992 when Wie was a toddler, has battled injuries and illness she traces to jumping in the murky water surrounding the 18th green after winning her second Nabisco in 1999. She got sick and didn't play for four weeks. Pepper has won only twice since and spent almost all of 2002 on the sideline with a shoulder injury.

"I had walking pneumonia and there was something in my ears that wasn't anything other than green," Pepper said. "Seriously, I was pretty sick from whatever was in that lake."

The good news for Pepper is that the lake has been cleaned up since her last win.

On Friday she made three birdies in the first 10 holes and played the rest of the way in with pars, except for her lone bogey on the 12th hole. The two rounds have rekindled the spirits of the 38-year-old long known for her fiery competitiveness.

"I'm not the kind of player that's going to come out here just because I have nothing else to do," Pepper said. "I'm going to play good golf or, trust me, I'm going to find something else to do."

Late last year, Pepper didn't think she would even be playing. She had been constantly sick, and Arnold Palmer helped get her an appointment at the Mayo Clinic, where they diagnosed a sinus problem that had plagued her almost constantly.

"More than anything, I'm happy to be healthy," she said. "Last year my shoulder never gave me any problems but everything else did. I was pretty ill until the beginning of January."

The windy conditions, deep rough and slick greens weren't the only problem for players. Rounds took up to six hours to play, and Wie was among those put on the clock when her group fell more than a hole behind on the back nine.

Wie managed a par round of 72 to go with an opening 69 that put her five shots better than at the same time last year when she first competed here as a 13-year-old. She did it while keeping her driver mostly in the bag, hitting 3-woods off the tee to keep her ball in play.

EUROPEAN PGA TOUR: Brad Kennedy topped the overnight leaderboard at 11 under halfway through the second round of the rain-delayed Madeira Island Open in Santo da Serra. Kennedy, who opened with 10-under 62, played only nine holes of the second round and had a one-stroke lead over Jamie Spence, who played 12 holes. First-round leader Magnus Persson didn't tee off.

MASTERS: Two-time champion Seve Ballesteros pulled out of next month's major because of back pain. It will be the first time he has missed the tournament since he first was invited in 1978. He won in '80 and '83.

[Last modified March 27, 2004, 02:10:29]

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