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Stars shop for Wegmans title Top 12 on LPGA's list to tackle Locust Hill

A prime spot on the LPGA Tour schedule has the Wegmans LPGA Tournament gearing up for a great week of golf.

Every one of the top 12 players on the LPGA Tour money list is entered this week in the annual event at Locust Hill Country Club in suburban Rochester. Eighteen of the top 20 players and 45 of the top 50 are in the field.

For the third year in a row, the Wegmans event finds itself sandwiched directly between two of the LPGA's major events. The McDonald's LPGA Championship was held in Maryland two weeks ago. The tour had last week off. Next week the tour goes to Pinehurst, N.C., where the U.S. Women's Open will be held.

"It's a week before the U.S. Open, and it's a great tuneup," said Morgan Pressel, the tour's top teenager.

Besides the fact golfers like to play the week before a major, the Rochester stop is attractive because the Locust Hill course mirrors the U.S. Open setup.

"It's always a good test," said Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who won the McDonald's event June 10. "They can make this course really tough and prepare us for what we're going to face at the Open. They can make the fairways narrow. They can make the rough pretty thick, and the greens are always rolling pretty quick here."

While Locust Hill is one of the shorter courses on the LPGA Tour at 6,329 yards, its fairways are lined heavily with trees. Accurate driving is a priority, just like at Open venues.

"I like a tight course; I like the narrow fairways and small greens," said defending champion Jeong Jang of South Korea. "I don't like a course where you need to shoot 20 under or 25 under to win. . . . I like it when 10 under is a good winning score. I think that kind of course is more fair to everyone."

The purse for the event is $1.8 million, 11th largest of the LPGA's 31 events.

The players also come back to Locust Hill because of the fan support.

"I think first of all, the players love Locust Hill," said three-time Rochester champ Nancy Lopez. "It's a great golf course. It's fun to play. The fans have always been tremendous. The fans, the way they are here and the crowds we get, make it more fun. The players feel very welcome. Sometimes you don't feel as welcome in other cities."

Players to watch in the event include:

Mexican Lorena Ochoa. In April, she supplanted Annika Sorenstam (who is not in the field) as the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Ochoa, 26, won six times last year and placed in the top 10 in 20 of 25 events. She already has two wins this year, but she still is looking for her first major title. She won at Rochester in 2005.

Pettersen. After four solid but unspectacular years on tour, she has had her breakthrough. Pettersen blew a three-shot lead with four holes to play to lose the first major of the year -- the Kraft Nabisco. But she rebounded to win a month later in Williamsburg, Va., and then scored her major title, coming from behind. Pettersen is the third-longest hitter on tour this year, averaging 273 yards on long-drive holes.

Young stars. Three of the top seven on the money list are young Americans. Paula Creamer, a 20-year-old prodigy known for her pink attire, is third on the list. Brittany Lincicome, a 21-year-old long hitter won in April and is fifth. Pressel, 19, made her first win a major title by edging Pettersen at the Kraft Nabisco.

Koreans. There are 45 players from South Korea on tour, and 15 of them rank among the top 50. Jang scored her first tour win at Rochester last year. She's 28th. Mi Hyun Kim is ninth and Jee Young Lee is 10th. Rookie Na On Min, 18, almost became the youngest LPGA major champ ever when she finished third two weeks ago. She didn't even take up golf until age 14.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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