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Ward shoots 64 to take lead

BEAVERCREEK, Ohio – Wendy Ward started the LPGA Champions
Classic almost the same way she ended it last year.

Ward birdied her first three holes Saturday on the way to an
8-under-par 64 and a two-shot lead halfway through the
rain-shortened LPGA Champions Classic.

She tied the course record at the Country Club of the North with
a 63 in the final round a year ago, surging to sixth place behind
winner Annika Sorenstam.

"The numbers are out there," the 28-year-old Texan said. "You
can't just kind of scoot around tomorrow and think even-par will do
it because it won't."

Ranked 134th on tour in putting coming in -- almost 100 places
higher than she was in 2000 -- Ward found her touch on the wet but
firm greens.

"I cannot tell you how good I felt over the putter today," she
said. "It's been a long time."

Sorenstam, seeking her sixth victory of the year, opened with a
69. She was at even par through her first 10 holes, then birdied
three of the next four holes. Even though she'll start the final
round tied for 21st and five shots out of the lead, she said the
way she played the last nine holes put her back in the race.

"I was telling my caddie, 'I want to continue. Can we go
another nine? I'm getting warmed up,"' she said.

Ward had not yet teed off Friday when the opening round was
first suspended and then canceled because of heavy rain and
lightning. Tour officials erased the early first-round scores and
turned the scheduled 54-hole event into a two-day, 36-hole
tournament.

It sprinkled early in the morning during Saturday's round, but
the sun came out in the afternoon.

Starting on the 10th tee, Ward made the turn in 4 under and then
had three birdies in a five-hole span to overtake rookie Jennifer
Hubbard. Hubbard was already in the clubhouse with a 66 -- the best
score of her brief career on tour.

Ward hit 8-iron shots to 20, 25 and 15 feet at holes No. 2, 4
and 6 -- then made the birdie putt each time.

She reached the 489-yard, par-5 eighth hole -- her 17th hole of
the day -- with a driver and a 3-wood. She nearly rolled in the
15-foot eagle putt, settling for the tap-in birdie that doubled her
lead.

"I do like this golf course. It sets up well for me," said
Ward, who has two wins in her six years on tour.

Hubbard was an unlikely pursuer. She had broken par in only two
of her first 11 rounds on tour and had missed the cut in four of
five starts. The only time she survived the cut she did it in style
-- holing a 147-yard, 7-iron shot for a hole-in-one on the last hole
of the second round in Los Angeles. She tied for 38th to collect
her first and only LPGA check.

With her father caddying for her, Hubbard was 2 under through
her first nine holes, then birdied four of the next seven holes.

"I've only made one cut this year. It'll be a new experience
for me," Hubbard said. "Maybe it's a good thing for me that it's
only two rounds."

Second-year pro Audra Burks, playing in one of the final groups
of the day, birdied the final hole to share second place with
Hubbard at 66.

"When it's just two days instead of three or four, it leaves it
wide open to the whole field," Burks said. "With a three- or
four-day event, someone like Karrie Webb or Annika has a chance to
kind of work their way in, then go low on the last day and beat
you. With 36 holes, it's a horse race. You just want to stay on
your horse."

Dottie Pepper, Mhairi McKay, Michelle Estill, Smriti Mehra and
Anne Marie Palli opened with 67s.

Even though she hasn't won this year, Pepper has finished second
twice, third three times and fourth once while taking over the No.
3 spot on the money list. She also went without a bogey in the wet
conditions, three times hitting approach shots within four feet for
birdies.

Palli's 67 was her lowest on the tour in almost eight years.

Hall of Famer Beth Daniel led the group at 68.

All 140 players return for the final round, with the top 70 and
ties earning money.