STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. - Annika Sorenstam was back in her comfort zone Thursday - making birdies, staying out of trouble and taking her customary place on the leaderboard.
Looking to get started on a new winning streak, Sorenstam shot a bogey-free 67 in the opening round of the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship, though plenty of big names were lining up to challenge the world's No. 1 player.
There's Karrie Webb, the last player not named Sorenstam to be ranked No. 1. She also started with a 67.
And Cristie Kerr was right in the thick of things, coming off a victory at Kingsmill last weekend that snapped Sorenstam's record-tying run of five straight LPGA Tour wins.
After scrambling for a 4-under 68 that left her just one stroke behind Sorenstam, Kerr didn't defer at all to the super Swede.
"Obviously, she's been the best player in the world for a long time, but there's a lot of players willing to step up and challenge her," Kerr said. "I'm not too concerned about her. I'm just going to play my game."
Sorenstam's quest for a sixth straight victory took a mortal blow when she opened the Michelob Ultra Open with a 76 - her highest score in relation to par (5 over) in nearly three years.
She spent the next three days trying to get back in the mix, but a shaky putter ruined those hopes.
No such worries on Thursday. Sorenstam made a couple of nice saves from the sand but was never in serious trouble, finishing just one stroke behind the early leader, England's Laura Davies with a 66.
"It's always nice to get off to a good start and get some momentum for the week," Sorenstam said. "It's no fun getting off to a rotten start. You have to fight back all the way, and you don't feel like you can make any mistakes."
Sorenstam's tremendous distance off the tee allowed her to take aim at the flag with short irons, setting up plenty of birdie chances. Only one of her five birdie putts was longer than 10 feet, and she actually missed a couple of chances to take her score even lower down the stretch.
At No. 7 - Sorenstam finished on the front nine - her drive on the 306-yard, downhill hole snuggled up alongside the green. She chipped to about 6 feet, but couldn't make the putt.
Still, it was clear that Sorenstam was more comfortable with the putter than the last time out. She's very familiar with Eagles Landing Country Club, having won the Atlanta-area tournament in 2001.
"I'm happy to come out and be able to read some greens," Sorenstam said. "Last week, I couldn't see a single thing. I would tell my caddie, 'I think it's left edge,' and he would say, 'No, I think it's on the right.' I really didn't know what to do. Here, I have a good feel, and it's nice to be back on the right track again."
Sorenstam's one-week letdown pales in comparison to Davies, who is on her fourth putter in five weeks. Finally, the Englishwoman found one to her liking, shooting her lowest score of the year at an event she won in 1995.
Davies didn't make any long putts, but she watched a bunch of short ones drop. The only stumble: a three-putt from 20 feet on her third hole.
"Maybe today was a good turning point for me," said Davies, who broke 70 for only the second time in 26 rounds.
It was certainly a day for going low. The Chick-fil-A has been plagued by stormy conditions throughout its history, but this year's tournament was bumped back two weeks in hopes of getting better weather.
So far, so good. With temperatures in the 80s on a sunny, humid day, the players got plenty of distance on the rock-hard fairways. Only the firm greens kept scores from getting totally out of hand.
Among those playing in the afternoon: defending tournament champion Jennifer Rosales. Despite a persistent wrist injury that knocked her out of two recent tournaments, she shot 32 on the front nine and was taking a run at those who went out in the morning.
Kerr is ready for all comers. The top-ranked American on tour isn't lacking for confidence after her fifth LPGA Tour victory - but the first with Sorenstam in the field.
"You always kind of know she's there, and you know she's capable of playing really well," Kerr said. "But I think I'm capable of playing just as well."
Divots: Tournament host Nancy Lopez took advantage of the conditions with a respectable 72 and hopes to make the cut for the first time since 2001.... Also at 68 from those who went out in the morning: Nicole Jeray, Heather Bowie, Lorena Ochoa and A.J. Eathorne.
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