Originally created 10/24/98

Pepper fights way to first at Samsung



THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- It could be time to get the Dottie Pepper punching bags out again.

Pepper, who angered the Europeans with her flamboyant displays during the Solheim Cup last month, shot a 2-under-par 70 Friday to take a three-stroke lead after two rounds of the Samsung World Championship of Women's Golf.

Pepper's two-day score of 5-under 139 put her ahead of the second-place group of Annika Sorenstam, Brandie Burton and Liselotte Neumann.

Sorenstam shot 1-over 73 and Burton had an even-par 72. Neumann carded the best round of the day, shooting 5-under 67 on a blustery afternoon at the 6,326-yard Tierra Del Sol course.

Pepper is seeking her first tour victory in more than two years in the $550,000 tournament.

But she has been a target since last month, when Europeans wrote "Dottie Pepper" on a punching bag -- then took their aggression out on the bag -- after Pepper played to the home crowd in the United States' victory over Europe in the Solheim Cup.

"It's different emotions," Pepper said of playing for herself and her country. "But if I'm correct, we're not playing any different game than we were a month ago. You still have a ball, tee and club and you've got to go out there and play."

Pepper opened the day tied with Sorenstam at 3-under. Pepper bogeyed two of the first four holes, then gained one back by hitting a 3-iron to two feet on the par-3 fifth hole for a birdie.

She made three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 to open a four-stroke lead, then gave one stroke back with a bogey on 17.

Still, she headed into the weekend in position for her first victory since the Safeway LPGA Golf Championship in September 1996.

"It may not be right here, right now, this week, but I know my time is coming," Pepper said. "I'm hitting better golf shots than I really ever have. On one side of the coin, it makes you patient. On the other side, it makes you anxious because you're playing so well."

She's one of the few who can make that claim this week.

At 1-under, Juli Inskter was the only other player in the 16-woman field to finish below par after two rounds.

Karrie Webb and Helen Alfredsson each finished at even par. Se Ri Pak shot 75 to finish at 3-over.

Sorenstam, the tour's money leader, said she let the steady 25 mph wind bother her as the round progressed.

"You've got to be patient when it's windy like that," she said. "I had a good first 12 holes, but after that I didn't feel like the momentum was there and I wasn't making the great putts that I needed. I got anxious and pressed a little more than I usually do."

Most other players also struggled with the wind, with Neumann standing out as one of the few exceptions.

After worrying too much over the conditions during an opening-round 75, she forced herself to not let them bother her.

"I think yesterday I was a little too careful," she said. "It was like I was trying to just hold onto what I was doing instead of staying aggressive and focusing on the flag and going right at it."

Some good putting helped, too.

Seeking her first title since April, Neumann sank a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 5, a 25-footer on No. 10 and 15-footers on Nos. 6 and 8 to get back in contention.

DIVOTS: Pepper's performance in the Solheim Cup has made her a national hero to those who follow women's golf. This week, she received an invitation to play golf with former President George Bush. "He just called and said that he and Barbara would love to play sometime," Pepper said. ... Parlaying the popularity of South Koreans Se Ri Pak and Grace Park, the LPGA announced a three-year television deal with the Seoul Broadcasting System. ... Inskter led the tournament at 3-under through eight holes, but followed with two bogeys over the next three holes to fall back to the pack. ... Pepper is paired with Neumann on Saturday, the third straight day she'll play with a Swede. She played with Sorenstam on Friday and opened the tournament paired with Alfredsson. Playing off the punching-bag events during the Solheim Cup, Alfredsson playfully shadowboxed with Pepper when the two were introduced on the first tee.