BETHESDA -- The past two months on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour have turned into the sport's version of Kids R Us, but the first two rounds of this year's $1 million Mazda LPGA Championship have returned with a blast to the past.
Two-time U.S. Open champion and first-round co-leader Betsy King continued to regain her form yesterday at Bethesda Country Club with a 5-under-par 66 and a 36-hole total of 8-under 134. But if the lead belonged solely to King, the spotlight was shared with Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner.
Carner, 53, who hasn't won a tournament in more than seven years, found herself in the hunt again after a bogey-free 66. Looking to beat Sam Snead's record as professional golf's oldest champion (52 years, 10 months), Carner is three shots behind King. Amy Alcott, who needs one victory to qualify for the Hall, is four behind after a 2-under 69.
The rejuvenation here by some of the LPGA's long-standing stars has quieted the talk earlier this week about the recent uprising by the tour's young players. In fact, Brandie Burton, 20, fell out of a first-round tie for the lead, and possibly contention, with a 2-over 73.
"Well, I've been listening to it lately," Carner, 53, said of the chatter about this season's coup de tour by a group of players in their 20s who have won the past eight events. "I scared them at Phar-Mor [by finishing second]. It's nice to be scaring them again."
She didn't scare King. Nor did the weather. With the forecasters calling for a late-afternoon thunderstorm, King beat both the rain and the difficult, 6,246-yard course. The more foreboding the sky became, the hotter King, 36, seemed to get.
Slipping back to 2-under after three-putting for bogey on the 498-yard par-5 second hole, King immediately recovered with long birdie putts at Nos. 3 and 5. Five-under at the turn, King birdied 11, 12 and 14. She parred in from there, finishing about 45 minutes before play was suspended.
"I feel like I'm back in the groove," said King, who went into a slump last summer, shortly after winning her 25th tournament. "This is the most comfortable I've been in a while."
The same might be said about Carner. After qualifying for the Hall of Fame a decade ago, Carner's game began to decline amid a host of physical ailments, mostly related to a bad back. It caused her to cut her schedule and stop using a driver off the tee.
Despite losing distance, Carner apparently has not lost any of the swagger that made her one of the most intimidating players back in those days when everyone called her "Big Momma." In retrospect, as well as in character, she wasn't that happy with yesterday's round.
"I really could have shot a [low] number if I could have made some putts," said Carner, who holed out a 25-footer from the bunker at 18 for her fifth birdie. "It's terrible to say that after shooting a 66."
Jane Geddes could have shot a low number had it not been for the 379-yard 18th hole. Tied for the lead at 4-under par at the time -- she had been as low as 5-under -- Geddes' approach to the green flew into the grandstand, then caromed out of bounds. She ended up with a triple-bogey 7 for a 1-over 72.
Geddes, who has won both the U.S. Women's Open and the LPGA Championship, is at 1-under 141. She is in a group of six players that includes Nancy Lopez (69), Patty Sheehan (70) and Pat Bradley (71). Defending champion Meg Mallon is at 2-over 144 after a second straight 72.
With King still on the course, and with rain on the way -- play was eventually called for the day at 5:20 p.m. because of a torrential downpour -- someone asked Carner how she felt, secure in the clubhouse and high on the leader board. She cocked back her head and laughed heartily.
"I love it," she said. "Let it snow."