Kerr leads Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open by two strokes

REUNION, Fla. -- Laura Diaz's birthday started with 31 roses, four cards and some clothes from her husband. It got better.

Diaz shot a 5-under 67 in the opening round of the Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open on Thursday, her first round under par this year and a good indicator that she has learned to cope with being away from her newborn son.

Diaz was tied for second with Lorena Ochoa, two strokes behind leader Cristie Kerr after a windy day near Orlando.

"I feel like I've been gone a year," said Diaz, playing in her fourth event since returning to the LPGA Tour last month.

Diaz may have been on the leaderboard Thursday, but she was somewhat off the radar screen. Dakoda Dowd, a 13-year-old playing the event to fulfill her cancer-stricken mother's dying wish, shot a 74 while being tailed by television cameras, photographers, reporters and well-wishers.

Dowd birdied her first hole, the par-5 10th, after hitting her tee shot down the left-center part of the fairway and then knocking her third shot to two feet.

"It made everything go a lot easier," she said. "It just made me a little bit more confident and made me breathe a little bit easier."

Andia Winslow, the 23-year-old niece of Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow, had much less fanfare in her tour debut. The first black golfer to play in an LPGA event since 2001, Andia Winslow was 10-over through 14 holes when play was halted because of darkness at 7:58 p.m.; 21 players will resume the first round Friday at 7 a.m.

Annika Sorenstam had the largest gallery and may have been the biggest disappointment. The world's No. 1 player shot a 72 -- her second consecutive round without breaking par. Sorenstam was 3-over in the final round at Eagle's Landing Country Club near Atlanta last week, uncharacteristically blowing a one-shot lead she took into the final 18 holes.

Sorenstam insisted all week that the discouraging finish would not carry over to the only full-field event in Florida.

"I didn't really get off to the kind of start I had in mind," she said.

Diaz did.

She missed the cut last week but said it was the first tournament in which she felt truly comfortable since giving birth to Cooper on Jan. 16 in Jacksonville Beach.

"I got right back into working out right away, so I think my body was definitely adjusting quicker," Diaz said. "But my mental side of it wasn't coming along so quickly."

Diaz said she felt separation anxiety while trying to practice and play -- even though she was leaving Cooper with her mother. Instead of spending an hour-plus warming up on the range, she trimmed it to 30 minutes. Instead of concentrating solely on her next shot, she was thinking about Cooper.

She wasn't sure if it would ever change.

But it did and got easier with time. It helped that her husband, Kevin, became her caddie. She also decided that Cooper would travel with them to every event, making detachment much less burdensome.

"I feel like I'm back in my routine," said Diaz, who plans to play the next six events.

Diaz had five birdies and a bogey on her front nine, finding the kind of rhythm missing since she injured herself while playing pregnant late last year.

Teeing off in one of the early groups, she took advantage of the large, undulating greens that became more receptive after a morning rain delayed the first round an hour.

She nearly reached the par-5 10th in two shots and then putted from off the green to six inches. She made two 20-footers. And she hit
several short irons close, even rattling the flag on Nos. 2 and 3.

"It's pretty exciting for me," she said.

It got better, though. Diaz had not planned to see Cooper after her round Thursday. But her mother missed an interstate exit, ended up driving by the course and decided to drop in for a few minutes with Cooper.

Diaz held her son during her interview, opening the session with, "He's supposed to say, 'Mama, I love you.' That was supposed to be my birthday present."

She settled for the roses -- one for each birthday -- and the cards and clothes.

"I didn't get anything really great," she said.

What else would she want?

"A big old 'W' would be nice," said Diaz, who has two victories in eight seasons, both in 2002.

Kerr had seven birdies and no bogeys. ... Tracy Hanson played with Dowd and shot a 69, four shots off Kerr's pace. It was far more pleasant playing with this 13-year-old than three years ago, when she and Danielle Ammaccapane played with Michelle Wie at the U.S. Women's Open. Wie and her father claimed Ammaccapane bumped and berated her. "We're not going to talk about that. We'll just say that Dakoda was a joy to play with," Hanson said. ... At least 39 players in the field were either born or currently live in Florida. ... Ochoa opened her round with an eagle on No. 10. Twenty-one players completed their first rounds Friday morning.