Friday, November 18, 2011

Cristie Kerr, seeking elusive win, is fourth

Like misplaced car keys, sunglasses or the television remote, Cristie Kerr knows her best golf is there somewhere.

But, darned if she has been able to find it.

Every LPGA season since 2003 has produced at least one victory for the 34-year-old veteran with 14 career titles. During that stretch Kerr has reigned as the most consistent American in women's golf, reaching world No. 1 last season.

Then along came 2011.

With only 54 holes of golf left on this season's schedule, Kerr remains winless, although she is No. 3 in the world ranking. She is frustrated and impatient, not to mention sick with a stomach virus.

"Something I got from Mexico," she said, having arrived straight from last week's tour stop in Guadalajara. "I woke up Tuesday and felt kind of tired and started getting some abdominal pains and the other stuff I'm not going to mention."

The good news, however, is she is 4-under par and on the leaderboard after one round of the season-ending Titleholders at Grand Cypress Resort and Golf Club.

After a six-birdie, two-bogey 68, Kerr is two shots back of leader Na Yeon Choi, one behind Morgan Pressel and Karrie Webb, and tied for fourth with Maria Hjorth.

"I didn't expect much from myself today," she said. "Maybe that's what it takes.

"It's felt like a bit of bad luck [this year]. That's the way it goes sometimes."

Kerr's frustration is fueled by a year of close calls but no celebration finishes. Eleven events into the season she had collected seven top-four finishes, including a consecutive string of three seconds followed by two straight third-places. A little luck and she could have out-Yanied Yani Tseng.

"Cristie had that unbelievable stretch in the middle of the year, what, four or five seconds in a row," Pressel said. "To think she didn't come out of that stretch with a victory is certainly surprising."

Even more shocking to Kerr was a bout of tendinitis in her right wrist that flared up before final-day singles competition in the Solheim Cup in September. It forced her to withdraw and concede a match and point that became valuable in Europe's narrow victory over the U.S. team.

Her play has been spotty since.

"I've never had to deal with trying to pay attention to an injury like that," she said.

Add in the stomach virus that kept her awake much of the night before Thursday's opening round, and there wasn't a lot of reason to expect the best.

"It's kind of the way the year has gone," she said. "But maybe somebody will smile on me this week."

Somebody certainly will leave Sunday night sporting a major grin -- not to mention the $500,000 winner's check -- to take into the offseason. By the look of the first-day leaderboard, they will have earned it.

Seven of the top 12 players after the first day are ranked among the world's top 30, including No. 4 Choi. The 24-year-old South Korean has five career LPGA wins, including one this year. There's also Webb, already a Hall of Fame member, with two wins this season, at No. 15 and Pressel at 14.

"I mean this is the last tournament on the LPGA Tour," said Choi, who makes her American base in Orlando. "I really want to finish well this tournament and achieve my goals for 2011. It's not only to win. I want to feel satisfied Sunday after I've played."

Likewise, Pressel is hoping to end the year on a high note. Despite seven top-10 finishes that helped her rank 12th on the money list, she, like Kerr, is winless in 2011. After becoming the youngest player to win an LPGA major, taking the 2007 Kraft Nabisco before her 19th birthday, Pressel's projected success has stalled.

"I felt good out there today,'' she said. "I didn't feel like I was pressing too hard. I have a bad habit that I've gotten into -- when things start to go well I start to press and almost become afraid of the hole. I was able to stay patient, stay with my game throughout the entire round. Hopefully, I can continue to do that for three days."

Or the rest of the season.