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Battle for 1st friendly

Their dinner conversation Saturday night was to be cordial and about anything but golf, even though they will battle for a tournament title today and a $150,000 first-place check.

Annika Sorenstam and Carin Koch, tied with Danielle Ammaccapane through three rounds of the Mercury Titleholders Championship, are sharing more than the top spot on the leaderboard.

The two Swedish women, along with their husbands, are sharing the same residence, as they do occasionally throughout the season. Sorenstam and Koch rarely take the job home, however, which is probably a good thing for the longtime friends.

There were to be no psyche jobs, no words of wisdom, no putting demonstrations on the living room carpet. And, despite what is at stake, no tension.

"Annika's name on the leaderboard isn't that intimidating because she is always there," said Koch, trying to win her first LPGA Tour event. "If I could pick someone who I didn't want behind me on the leaderboard, it would probably be her. She is such a solid player. You know she's going to shoot a good score. It's just a matter of how good."

Sorenstam, 27, a two-time Player of the Year, is trying for her first victory of the season after six top-10 finishes in as many events.

She put herself in position with 3-under 69 at LPGA International that put her at 205, 11 under, through 54 holes. Koch, who also came up through the Swedish National Golf Federation, shot 68. And Ammaccapane, who won the tournament in 1992 when it was called the Centel Classic and played in Tallahassee, shot 67 to forge a three-way tie.

Donna Andrews (68) and Lorie Kane (67) are a shot back at 206, with Kris Monaghan (71) at 207 and three players at 208. Tampa's Dawn Coe-Jones, the second-round leader, shot 74 and dropped to a tie for 10th. There are 17 players within six shots of the lead.

"The heat of the battle is all you make it," said Kane, 33, also seeking her first tour victory. "The thing about our sport is that you make it what you can. I'm going to have fun. Of course I want to win, but I want to keep control of my goals."

For a time, Ammaccapane's name was one that was feared when it got on the board. She won four tournaments in 1991-92 and finished third on the 1992 money list with $513,639. But she went into a prolonged slump before winning again last year in Minneapolis. It was the fifth victory of her career.

"It was a little frustrating and there were times I didn't want to play anymore," said Ammaccapane, 32. "I still felt in my heart I could enjoy the game and be successful. I think I'm a better golfer and I'm a better person for having gone through it.

"I'm softer as a person now. I'm not so stressed out anymore. In the past I had that Dottie Pepper demeanor. I was very intense. I still am but in a different way."

Koch, 27, too, has learned to be easier on herself. Her best chance for victory came several weeks ago when she led the Longs Drug Challenge in Sacramento for 69 holes before Andrews passed her.

"I proved to myself that my game was good enough to win, even though I didn't win that time," said Koch, whose husband, Stefan, is caddying for her.

Sorenstam, a 12-time winner, knows how important experience is.

"It's good having the experience when you get into this position," Sorenstam said.

"We all want to win. It depends on who can calm the nerves. All I know is it will be a fight (today) and I won't give up."

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