Sheehan tames wind to tie for LPGA lead

May 14, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

WILMINGTON, Del. -- During the seven years when the McDonald's LPGA Championship was played at the Du Pont Country Club, the 6,836-yard course was considered tough but fair. The impressive list of champions and their scores reflected those conditions.

During the first two rounds of the inaugural McDonald's LPGA Championship -- a name change of considerable consequence since the $1.1 million tournament is now a major -- the once manageable course has been turned into a green monster by a combination of rain, wind and cold.

To the surprise of no one except herself, defending champion Patty Sheehan accomplished yesterday what no other player in the field could: She turned in a remarkable round of 3-under-par 68, giving the struggling Hall of Famer a 36-hole total of 2-under-par 140 and a share of the lead.

Sheehan is tied with Robin Walton, a non-winner in 16 years on tour. They are one shot ahead of first-round co-leader Alice Ritzman, who has never won in 17 years as a pro. Great Britain's Laura Davies, who eagled the final hole for an even-par 71, and 1991 champion Meg Mallon (71) are two shots behind at even-par 142.

"It was pretty good, I'd have to say that," Sheehan, 37, said of a round that included four birdies and one bogey, on her next-to-last hole. "I usually don't get too excited, but that was pretty good."

Said Ritzman, 42, who struggled early but managed to stay in contention with a 2-over 73, "That was awesome."

While the winds that reached gusts of 35 mph didn't pick up until after she had made three birdies on her first five holes, Sheehan's roundwas the only one of three under par. Val Skinner shot 2-under 69 and is alone at 1-over 143. With a second `D straight 70, Walton is the only player under par for both rounds.

"It was a day where you have to be patient and take par," said Walton, 38. "Usually when you shoot par, you feel the world is passing you by. I shoot this every week and I get trashed every week."

Sheehan's score was also 10 shots lower than Ritzman's first-round co-leader, Dottie Mochrie, whose chances of winning might have self-destructed with a 7-over 78. Frustrated with her round, which included five bogeys on the first 17 holes, Mochrie double-bogeyed the par-4 18th by three-putting from 12 feet. Her final putt came after she angrily stabbed -- and missed -- a two-inch tap-in for bogey.

"I think the putt was just too short for me," Mochrie joked later on the practice green despite being six shots behind. "At least I hit it. The last time I did something like that, I whiffed."

The two-round scores ballooned higher than they've been on tour this year, and higher than they've ever been in the eight years since the LPGA started coming here. The cut was made at 9-over 151, three more than it was at Nabisco Dinah Shore, the season's first major. The highest cut here previously was 6-over 148, in 1987 and again last year.

So how does that explain what Sheehan did? Despite her stature in women's golf, and the fact that she can become the only four-time winner of this event in its 40-year history, Sheehan has been in a major funk. She is looking for her first victory since winning last year's final Mazda LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club and fighting whispers that she has lost her well-noted feistiness since making the Hall last year.

"It has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame," said Sheehan, 37, who is third on the LPGA Tour's all-time money list but only 32nd this year. "I certainly have the motivation."

Instead, Sheehan blames her lackluster play on the time she has spent building a new house in Reno, Nev. She moved there after her former residence in Santa Cruz, Calif., was destroyed by the earthquake that rocked the San Francisco area in the fall of 1989.

"I've spent a lot of time on the house, and it has created problems on the golf course," she said.

Those problems are something to which Walton and Ritzman have become accustomed during their undistinguished careers. Walton has recovered her health after being diagnosed with a melanoma on her thigh two years ago, but she is 90th on the money list this year. Ritzman, who has lost three sudden-death playoffs, is 40th. Together they have played in 772 tournaments and have 31 fewer victories than Sheehan.

"I think somewhere out there, all those who root for underdogs will be pulling for Alice and I," said Walton.

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