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Pak leads pack at LPGA, but Locust Hill dominating

The knock on Locust Hill Country Club as the site of an LPGA major concerned the ease of the test.

Cristie Kerr went 19 under in winning here two years ago. Yani Tseng duplicated the feat in last year's runaway conquest.

When someone is ripping the place to pieces, the tournament loses its feel as a superior challenge, one of the sport's defining events.

Such onslaughts can prompt drastic responses. Augusta National was stretched and stretched some more after Tiger Woods beat the Masters up in 1997 and 2001.

But not every course has the luxury of tapping into unused acreage. Sometimes circumstances dictate a more practical and less expensive solution, like the one employed at Locust Hill, where they simply put away the lawn mowers.

No one's going to shoot 19 under par in the LPGA Championship this year. There's a good chance no one will make it to double digits.

The deeper, gnarly rough has kept the field in check and promises to provide the Sunday drama missing the last two times through.

"It's a lot tougher than the last couple of years," said Stacy Lewis, at even par after a second 72. "The rough is long, but it's the longest right off the fairways. So you barely miss the fairway and you don't have a shot."

The lead score heading into today's third round is but a stroke lower than it was after Thursday.

South Korean Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak, a five-time major winner coming back from injury, followed her opening 70 with 71 and is at 3-under 141.

Pak suffered a torn labrum in her left shoulder six weeks ago in a fall and went a month without fully swinging a club. Accordingly, she arrived here without expectations and has relied on wisdom accumulated over 14 seasons to make her way around the new-look Locust Hill.

"You will miss the fairway and make shots from the rough," Pak said. "You have to be really smart thinking. You don't really try to force it to make par. Sometimes bogey's a good number. So I'm trying not to make too big mistake."

One shot back is the quartet of 2008 U.S. Open winner Inbee Park, 2010 U.S. Open champ Paula Creamer, Japan's Mika Miyazato and German Sandra Gal.

A logjam of six at 1 under includes South Korean M.J. Hur, the 2009 U.S. Open winner, who vaulted from 61st to a tie for sixth with a trend-bucking 68 that featured six birdies.

For everyone else the operative word was "survival."

"This is the hardest I think it's ever played, and the scores are showing it and pars are what you want out there," Creamer said. "When you get those opportunities for birdies is really when you have to take advantage of it. I have been trying to do that more this week than I think any other week."

"This kind of golf course, I think it's really tough for everybody, so I think that works for me," Pak said.

The field will tee off between 7 and 9 a.m. today because of a late-afternoon weather threat. Both the first and 10th tees will be used.

As Creamer referenced, no longer does the field take driver and swing with impunity. Miss the fairway and there's a heavy price to pay.

Kerr hit what looked like a 5-wood out of the rough at No. 4 and advanced it maybe 80 low-slung yards. Playing partner Michelle Wie got maybe 60 yards out of an iron hit from a nearby position.

But nothing exemplifies the increased difficulty like Tseng's change in fates. She's at 7 over following a 75, a 26-stroke differential from last year's joyride for the world No. 1, and just limboed in under the cut line.

"The golf course is very tough and the rough is very thick," Tseng said. "If you get in there it is really hard to save par from the rough. I don't know how I shot 19 under last year."

Two golfers with a wisp of a Western New York connection hit the weekend in the top 12. Sydnee Michaels is tied for sixth at 1 under and Karin Sjodin tied for 12th at even par. Both are coached by Marilla native E.J. Pfister, the 1988 NCAA individual champion and former head pro at East Aurora Country Club. Pfister is director of instruction at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla.