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Hurst shifts into former gear; Ghost of LPGA past moves into second

Pat Hurst hobbled into the LPGA Championship with the past-performance chart of a low-priced claimer nearing the end of its career. She had missed the cut in four straight tournaments, shooting a round of 75 or worse in all of them. She hasn't scored an LPGA victory since 2009, hasn't won in the states since 2006. If you considered her a serious contender at Locust Hill this week then you're either her husband or one of their two children.

On a tour where it seems everyone is a face of the future, Hurst, 42, is most definitely a ghost from the past. She was LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1995, won a major in 1998 and celebrated with the birth of her son the following year. And that's when it all began to change. Jack Nicklaus always said golf would get tougher for Tiger Woods once he married and started a family. Imagine being the mother/golfer and trying to make it all work. Is it any wonder that the LPGA's last two dominant figures, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, retired in their primes rather than try and juggle tee times and feeding times?

Hurst has had more on her plate than Sonya Thomas. There's the kids, Jackson and Reilly Ann, and husband Jeff. There was her recent two-year stint on the LPGA board. The family recently completed a move. Maybe it's nothing more than the realization she has persevered that accounts for Hurst's lowest competitive round in more than a year, a Friday 5-under par 67 that has her alone in second, one stroke behind world No. 1 and leader Yani Tseng of Taiwan (70-136) heading to Moving Day of the season's second major.

"There has been a lot of things on my mind," Hurst said. "The demand on your time is a little bit different. With us moving, and we were building a house, you know, that took a lot out. I was on the LPGA board. That was a lot of work. It was well worth it, but a lot of little things took up a lot of my time, and I just didn't have much time to focus on golf. This year, and maybe a couple of more years, I want to focus on my golf and see where I go."

Hurst was tops among nine Americans within five shots of the lead. Morgan Pressel is tied for third, two back, after her second straight 69. Paula Creamer and Cindy LaCrosse sit in a tie for fifth. Angela Stanford is ninth. Reilley Rankin, Stacy Prammanasudh, Stacy Lewis and Tiffany Joh are in a group knotted for 10th. Pressel looms particularly dangerous with three top-10s at Locust Hill. She hit all 14 fairways Friday after finding just seven in the first round.

"This is a good golf course for me," Pressel said. "It's very tight and you have to rely a lot on putting, and I think that's why I played well here. I look forward to coming to this golf course. When it became a major I wasn't upset."

Tseng retained the one-shot advantage she carried into the day, surviving a double-bogey on the par-4 No. 18 (she missed bogey from 2 feet) with the help of a bounce-back birdie on No. 1.

"I feel a little bit disappointed about my round today," Tseng said. "I missed that 2-footer. It's only a 2-footer. That's the putt I should not miss."

Hurst was the day's big surprise with her unforeseeable charge. There's a tinge of unorthodoxy in her game these days, a tendency to use her caddie to help set her alignment, particularly on the greens.

"I know that's a pet peeve for a lot of people out here, but you know what, if it's going to help my game I'm going to do it," Hurst said. "If it's going to give me confidence, I'm doing it. I wouldn't say it gives me an advantage because everyone can do it. I don't think it slows my game down. If I am going to hit a better shot, if I'm going to make a better putt, it's only going to help speed up play."

Hurst got on a roll shortly after beginning her round on the back nine. She made birdie putts of 7 feet or less on Nos. 11 and 13. She chipped in on 15. A bomb on No. 16 was one of two putts she cashed from at least 35 feet. Suddenly she was atop the leader board and in contention at a major.

"I'm excited," Hurst said. "I've gained a little bit of confidence out there. I putted really well. It's coming around. I'm feeling good.

"I go out now more than anything and I enjoy the game. I love to play. Practicing is a little bit tougher. I wouldn't say I love to practice. I do love to play, and I love the competition."

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com