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SKINNER'S LONG HITTING PAYS OFF WITH A 1-STROKE LEAD

Wide fairways and reachable par-5s make the LPGA International course a perfect match for Val Skinner, one of the longest hitters on tour.

She proved why last year by winning, and she's headed in that direction again after a 5-under 67 Thursday gave her a one-stroke lead after the first round of the $1.2 million Sprint Titleholders Championship."Normally, we're playing golf when you have to think a lot off the tee," Skinner said. "On this course, you just hit driver. That's fun for a change. It keeps your swing going."

Skinner's bogey-free round gave her the lead over Japanese rookie Mayumi Hirase, Dawn Coe-Jones and Jane Geddes, who each shot 68. U.S. Open champion Annika Sorenstam and leading money-winner Meg Mallon were among eight players at 69.

"I like those ho-hum 67s," Skinner said.

Skinner hit driver every chance she got, including one from 252 yards out on the par-5 fifth that set up a two-putt birdie from 25 feet.

She worked a simple equation to perfection. Long drives make for birdies on the par-5s and set up short irons - and presumably shorter putts - on the par-4s.

The only thing missing was the putting. Her 25-foot putt for eagle on No. 5 was her longest of the day. That she only had a 67 to show for it was perplexing.

"Five inches (of missed putts) and I would have shot a 62," she said.

That a foreign rookie was among the leaders was not surprising - but it wasn't Karrie Webb of Australia, who shot a 71.

Hirase, whose three top-10 finishes have been overshadowed by Webb's record start, made four birdie putts of 12 feet and under to shoot 68.

"I didn't have any expectations this week," she said. "I am surprised at this score."

Skinner's surprise was that her 67 was good enough for the lead.