Originally created 05/12/02

Rookie Gulbis shoots 66, leads by stroke after third round



FRANKLIN, Tenn. -- Natalie Gulbis doesn't know where the closest hotels are just yet. The 19-year-old rookie is still trying to figure out a routine to follow each day on the LPGA Tour and how to manage her time as a professional.

Playing great golf comes naturally.

Gulbis shot a career-best 6-under-par 66 Saturday to take a one-stroke lead after the third round of the Aerus Electrolux USA Championship.

Playing only her seventh event since joining the tour full-time, she birdied four of the first seven holes and finished with seven birdies and just one bogey to reach 11 under.

"I'm just excited, really excited, to be here, and it's nice to see my game finally getting better," Gulbis said. "I kind of got off to a little bit of a rough start. I hit the ball really well last week and have just progressively gotten better this week."

Brandie Burton, the leader after two rounds, shot a 70 to drop into a tie with Pat Hurst (67) at 10-under 206.

Annika Sorenstam (70) held the lead at 11 under for two holes but slipped with two consecutive bogeys. She was two strokes back along with Grace Park (67). Laura Diaz (70) and Danielle Ammaccapane (70) followed at 8-under 208, and Se Ri Pak (66) topped a group four strokes back at 207.

Sorenstam ended her round by hitting into the water on No. 18 but recovered for par. She headed to the range to work on her swing.

"I am really looking forward to playing tomorrow. I want to play my best golf tomorrow," she said.

Gulbis won the California Women's Amateur at age 14, and was an All-American at the University of Arizona last season. She tied for third in the LPGA qualifying tournament last year, earning exempt status for this season.

She had made the cut in four of her first six tournaments, and had a season-best 15th-place tie last week in the Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship. But before this week, she hadn't put together consecutive rounds in the 60s. Now she has gone 70-69-66.

"I'm starting to get into a routine as far as a weekly basis. It's not really my swing or anything there," she said of her improved play.

She hit her irons very well Saturday and started her round off with a birdie on the par-4 second, hitting a pitching wedge from 120 yards to 5 feet. She birdied all four of the par 5s, leaving herself putts from 2-to-5 feet.

Both Hurst and Burton, who also turned pro at 19, were impressed by Gulbis.

"She's a good player," Hurst said. "The young players coming out these days it's a different breed now. They know how to play the game of golf. ... It's not like it's their first time playing in an LPGA event."

Gulbis birdied four of her first seven holes, dropped a shot on No. 8 when she got a little excited and hit over the green and missed a 5-footer for par. She rallied with three birdies on the back nine, including a 4-footer on No. 12 that gave her a share of the lead with Burton at 10 under.

Gulbis took the lead to herself on the 469-yard, par-5 18th. She hit a sand wedge from 95 yards to 5 feet with her parents watching.

Divots: Hurst and Gulbis had to call an official for a ruling on No. 16 when Hurst accidentally picked up Gulbis' magnetic marker with her Ping putter. Hurst's marker was an inch away from Gulbis' marker, and she was going to putt out. There was no penalty. ... Gulbis putts with her left hand below her right, a trick her father taught her after watching Bernhard Langer. ... Sherri Turner had the shot of the day on No. 18, knocking her second shot off a greenside skybox. She recovered for par. ... Defending champion Juli Inkster is 10 strokes back after a 70.