Juli Inkster Experience counts: 48-year-old Juli Inkster leads Ricoh Women's British Open

Apparently, experience counts for something in the British Open.

Less than two weeks after 53-year-old Greg Norman made a run at becoming the oldest men's major champion at Royal Birkdale, 48-year-old Juli Inkster found the fountain of youth Thursday in first-round play of the Ricoh Women's British Open.

Inkster took advantage of an early tee time and near-perfect playing conditions to fire a 7-under-par 65 and take a one-stroke lead heading into Friday's second round. The seven-time major champion posted her bogey-free round early in the day and finished atop the leaderboard, despite being the oldest player in the field at Sunningdale Golf Course.

"Basically, the conditions were perfect out there," Inkster told reporters. "We didn't have any wind. The greens were a little soft, and I hit the ball really well."

Inkster got things rolling with a birdie on the par-5 second hole, added a birdie on the par-4 fifth and drove the green on the 273-yard, par-4 ninth where she converted her eagle putt. On the back side, Inkster recorded birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 14.

Inkster, whose last major victory came at the 2002 Women's U.S. Open, admitted she was a bit surprised, especially with how she hit the ball. The American said she has been struggling with her swing lately, so she enlisted the help of Karrie Webb's golf teacher, Ian Triggs, who has apparently got Inkster headed in the right direction.

"Every day, it's gotten a little bit better, but even so, I was surprised when I teed up my ball on No. 1 and it went straight," Inkster said. "I thought then it was a good sign, and that's what it turned out to be."

Yuri Fudoh, Momoko Ueda, Ji Yai Shin, Johanna Head, Laura Diaz, Stacy Prammanasudh and Ji Young Oh all finished day one tied for second after rounds of 6-under 66. Rebecca Hudson, Kristy McPherson, Karen Stupples and Sherri Steinhauer were two shots off the pace at 5-under 67.

Defending champion Lorena Ochoa opened with a 3-under-69 and is four strokes back of the leaders. She had five birdies in her first 14 holes but fell back after consecutive bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17, causing her to briefly lose her cool.

"I felt good," Ochoa told reporters. "On the 17th, I got really mad when I hit a bad drive off the tee and a bad chip, but the rest was pretty good."

Overall, Ochoa said she was fairly satisfied with her start.

"I think 3 under is always pretty good," Ochoa said. "And remember, we're just starting out. Tomorrow and over the weekend, I'm going to try to take it one shot at a time."

Playing in perhaps her final major, Annika Sorenstam struggled early before rallying to shoot an even-par 72. The 11-time major champion, who plans to step away from professional golf at the end of the year, will likely need to go low in Friday's second round to avoid missing the cut.

Sorenstam opened with bogeys at Nos. 1, 3 and 6 before getting back to even par with birdies on holes 9, 13 and 14.

"It wasn't the start I wanted," Sorenstam told reporters. "For the last three weeks, I've played some great golf, but every round has been very much the same — a lot of good shots but just not 18 good holes."

August 1, 2008

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