Meunier-Lebouc leads as 13-year-old Wie dazzles

RANCHO MIRAGE March 30. On a day when Annika Sorenstam struggled and a French player led the Kraft Nabisco, a long- hitting 13-year-old gave fans a glimpse into the future of women's golf.

Michelle Wie isn't even old enough to play on a high school team, but she was good enough to shoot the day's best round, a 6-under 66 that put her in the final group with Sorenstam and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.

Meunier-Lebouc shot a 2-under 70 to take a three-stroke lead over Sorenstam and four over Wie, who was as unflappable as an eighth-grader in a major championship could be.

"I didn't even know what I was shooting," Wie said. "I just felt like I had to make one more birdie."

Wie almost did, lipping out a 4-footer on the final hole Saturday, one of two short back-nine misses that were still bothering the eighth-grader from Honolulu some time later.

"It's killing me right now," she said. "I could have been second by now."

That spot was occupied by two-time defending champion Sorenstam, who had short putting troubles of her own and finished with a 71.

Sorenstam is a master at playing her own game and keeping her focus. She will need all of it to play with a 13-year-old who will likely be hitting her drives 30 to 40 yards past her.

"I cannot relate at all," Sorenstam said. "She's playing at a totally different level than I did at that age."

Meunier-Lebouc, who began the day with a two shot lead, led by as many as five shots on the back nine before back-to-back bogeys on 16 and 17 brought her back closer to the field.

She missed an 8-footer for birdie on 18 to finish with a 2-under 70 that left her at 8 under on a course she hadn't seen before arriving here earlier this week.

"I'm very happy and at the same time scared," Meunier-Lebouc said. "That's the best, actually. That's why I'm here."

Meunier-Lebouc, who won five times on the European tour and once last year on the LPGA Tour, has experience playing with Sorenstam in the final group. She was with her last week in Phoenix, where they tied for third.

She's seen Sorenstam up close enough while playing her last five rounds with her to know what she's capable of. She also knows she is playing the golf of her life.

"I think it's going to be the best experience of my life," Meunier-Lebouc said. "It keeps getting better every day."

Rookie Lorena Ochoa had threatened to make it in the final group, getting to 7 under after a front-nine 32. But she had problems on the back nine, hitting it behind a tree on 11, and into the water on 14 for a back nine 42 that left her seven shots back. — AP

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