BETHESDA -- The battle lines have been drawn. The challenge has been issued. Birth certificates seem to be as relevant as birdies in this year's $1 million Mazda LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club.
The old guard and the new breed of women's golf each had two representatives on top of the first-round leader board yesterday. Former U.S. Open champion Betsy King and veteran Alice Ritzman matched rising star Brandie Burton and relative unknown Donna Andrews at 3-under-par 68 to share the lead.
Three other former Open champions -- would-be Hall of Famer Amy Alcott, Hollis Stacy and Jan Stephenson -- were in a group of eight at 69. Another former Open champion, Pat Bradley, and former LPGA champion Sally Little were in a group of 12 at 70. Defending champion Meg Mallon shot a 1-over 72.
While this is certainly a friendly rivalry between the two age groups -- the "twentysomethings" against the older, more established players -- it is a rivalry nonetheless. It has been more than two months since a player older than 27 has won a tournament.
"I told someone that my prediction was that an over-30 player was going to win, maybe over-35," said King, 36. "I think we're due."
In some cases, overdue. King, who is third in LPGA earnings all-time, hasn't won in nearly a year and came into the week 34th on the money list. Ritzman, 40, never has won in 15 years on tour. Alcott has been looking for her Hall-clinching 30th victory for 14 months.
That many of the tour's biggest names, as well as biggest all-time money-winners, were among the leaders didn't come as a shock to those who understand the nature of major championships. Nor did it faze this fearless group of up-and-coming players.
"Experience has a lot to do with it," said Stacy, 38, who has won three Opens among her 18 career victories. "I was one of those up-and-comers. I had to run into a few walls myself. You have to learn to be patient."
It seems that Burton is running through walls these days, not into them. After being the tour's rookie of the year in 1991, Burton is becoming a force. She won her first tournament earlier this year, has been a regular top 10 finisher and is third in earnings.
The youngest player on tour at 20, Burton says she doesn't feel at a disadvantage against players who were winning tournaments around the time she was starting pre-school. She respects her elders, but isn't intimidated by them.
"I feel I'm ready to win any golf tournament," said Burton, who birdied her last two holes to gain a share of the lead. "I feel like I've gotten a lot of experience. I've learned how to handle being in contention."
While Burton has steadily been in the hunt this season, her co-leaders haven't. Ritzman has three top-10 finishes, but has come no closer than fifth. Andrews, 25, struggled earlier this year, but is coming off a career-best second place finish last week at Crestar.
King, in particular, has had her problems this year. After her 25th career victory last summer, King watched a replay of the tournament, didn't like her swing, and began asking questions. She left her longtime teacher, Ed Oldfield, when he couldn't give King the right answers.
"If you sum up the year it's been change," said King, who also fired a long-time caddie around the same time. "Some changes I wanted to make, and some changes I didn't."
Eventually, she came to the realization that her old swing might have been ugly and technically unsound, but effective. King went back to it recently, and finished tied for ninth the past two weeks.
"If you win 25 tournaments, it can't be too bad," said King, who holed out a 50-footer from the sand on her final shot yesterday for birdie.
Of all those on the leader board, perhaps Alcott will get the most support if she stays up there. Since winning the Nabisco Dinah Shore by eight shots last spring to come within one victory of making the Hall of Fame, Alcott has frittered away some chances.
She heard the questions last year at Atlantic City, when she blew a lead down the stretch. She heard them again this year at Las Vegas and Tucson. She heard it yesterday when she bogeyed two of the last three holes to lose her grasp on the lead.
"There's pressure in reaching a number," said Alcott, 36. "But all I can do is go out and play. All I want is to get into contention. Or as Fuzzy Zoeller says, 'Give me a chance to choke.' "
Par. . .. . . . 454.. . . . .. 344. . . . . 434. .... .-35
Burton. ......... 454. .......... 344. ....... 523. ......-34
King. ........... 454. .......... 344. ....... 433. ......-34
Ritzman. ........ 454. .......... 244. ....... 334. ......-33
Andrews. ........ 444............ 354......... 434. ......-35
Par. ............ 435. .......... 544......... 344. ..-36--71
Burton. ......... 434. .......... 444. ....... 344. ..-34--68
King..............434. .......... 444. ....... 344. ..-34--68
Ritzman.......... 344. ...........544. ....... 344. ...35--68
Andrews.......... 325............ 544. ....... 334. ...33--68