Originally created 08/31/02

Meunier-Lebouc takes lead in State Farm Classic



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- France's Patricia Meunier-Lebouc shot a 5-under-par 67 on Friday for a three-shot lead heading into the third round of the State Farm Classic.

Meunier-Lebouc, coming back from a lower back injury and resulting swing adjustments, started a shot behind Becky Morgan. But she stood at 131 at the end of the day - three shots ahead of Akiko Fukushima, who shot a second straight 67 to claim second place alone at 10-under 134.

My Hyun Kim, the 1999 champion, shot a 68 and was in third at 9 under. Tied for fourth at 136 were Hall of Famer Betsy King, Cristie Kerr, Nancy Scranton and Kim Saiki, who shot the day's low round of 65.

Morgan made the turn at even par Friday, but was 2 over on the back to finish with a 74 for a 137 total, putting her in a nine-way tie for eighth.

Meunier-Lebouc, a six-time winner on Ladies European Tour playing her second season on the LPGA Tour, opened the tournament Thursday with a career-best 64. She followed that up with her second bogey-free round and her sixth straight round in the 60s at the 6,558-yard Rail Golf Club, where she finished sixth a year ago.

Meunier-Lebouc broke a bone in her lower back on Jan. 15 and spent the next seven weeks healing. Even being physically sound, her best previous 2002 finish was a tie for 22nd, as Meunier-Lebouc learned how to swing again without protecting the injured area.

With Thursday's sizzling round, she also learned how to dream of winning her first event on the LPGA Tour.

"There are a lot of players who can do it by at the end of the week, but I know I have a chance," Meunier-Lebouc said. "That is my dream."

On a course lengthened this year to protect it from the birdie barrages of the past, Meunier-Lebouc posted her score early, and no one made a serious run.

Fukushima, who has been recovering from a broken toe, liked her position in the second round but took nothing for granted.

"There are still two days left, and I know there are a lot of good players out there," the third-year Japanese pro said through an interpreter. "So I'll still need a lot of birdies."

Neither leader should be worried about history because the State Farm event has crowned nine first-time champions in its first 26 years. King, who hosted her own tournament last week in western Pennsylvania, is the exception, having won three times in the 1980s.

King, in fact, was one of the final players to start a run for the lead, only to fall back. Beginning the day 6 under, she got to 9 under with a birdie on the par-5 fourth before making bogey on her final hole, the 385-yard ninth.

Kerr had even worse problems on the same hole, blading a shot from a sand trap over the green into another bunker. Her double-bogey 6 dropped her from 10 under to 8 under.

Friday's shuffle also did little to clarify the makeup of the 12-player U.S. Solheim Cup squad, which will be finalized Sunday.

Scranton is among those in the hunt for the final three automatic spots as well as U.S. captain Patty Sheehan's two captain's picks for the Sept. 20-22 matches against Europe at Interlachen in Edina, Minn.