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Coe-Jones clings to lead

Wondering what could have been is a chronic condition among golfers. If only that putt dropped. If only that ball stayed in the fairway. If...

Tampa's Dawn Coe-Jones was left muttering those words Friday afternoon after completing her second round at the Titleholders Championship.

Coe-Jones was cruising to a comfortable 36-hole advantage when she splashed her tee shot at the par-3 17th hole, then dunked another ball at No. 18.

A double-bogey, bogey finish. A potential four-shot lead _ or more _ cut to one. And one of the world's best players, Annika Sorenstam, right there to apply the weekend heat.

Ouch.

"Lunch would have tasted better if that hadn't happened," Coe-Jones said.

Indeed, Coe-Jones allowed a slew of players to get back into contention heading into the weekend of the $1-million tournament at LPGA International.

Coe-Jones, who shot an opening 65 on Thursday, shot 70 despite her 3-over-par finish. The Canada native completed 36 holes at 9-under 135.

But right behind was the threesome of Chris Johnson (68), who won last year's LPGA Championship, Kris Monaghan (69) and Sweden's Sorenstam (69), whose eagle at the par-5 18th coupled with Coe-Jones' bogey made for a three-shot swing among those two players.

Another shot back was a group of four players, including Swedes Eva Dahllof (71), Catrin Nilsmark (68) and Carin Koch (68).

"The foreign invasion is very strong," said Monaghan, 37, a two-time LPGA Tour winner and one of the few Americans near the top of the leaderboard. "They have made quite an impact. They are worldly before they get here."

That was certainly the case with Sorenstam, 27, who was rookie of the year on the European tour in 1993, earned the same honor on the LPGA Tour in 1994, and since then has won 12 LPGA tournaments, including six in 1997.

But she has been shut out this year, although Sorenstam has finished among the top 10 in her six events. She certainly is headed in the right direction again this week.

"I expect myself to play well," said Sorenstam, who was 2 over par through seven holes before playing the last 10 holes in 5 under. "I've been preparing myself for this tournament and I'm playing the best I've played in a long time. (Thursday) was the best I've played in a long time and I couldn't expect to play much better.

"It's really exciting. When I made that putt on No. 18, I knew it was for second. It's what it's all about. I want a really late tee time on Saturday and Sunday."

Johnson, 40, is accustomed to such a position as well. The 18-year LPGA Tour veteran has nine titles, including two in 1997 when she had her best season, earning $722,330 to rank fourth on the money list.

"I have played well the last two years," Johnson said. "The confidence is there. If something is wrong with my game, I feel I can fix it in the next few shots. My swing, in general, is better. And my short game is probably what keeps me playing well."

Coe-Jones was just happy to be playing well, period. She has not won since the 1995 Tournament of Champions and just recently started putting her game together. And despite her misfortune toward the end of her round, Coe-Jones is optimistic.

"I haven't been there all year. I'm happy," she said. "I just have to stay calm and keep swinging like I've been swinging: slow and smooth. I have to keep attacking pins when I get the chance. I've only made two bad swings.

"I'm trying not to get excited. As you saw, I had a five-stroke lead and now it's (one). You can build it quickly and it can go away quickly."

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