Davies moves out of shadows, into LPGA lead

May 15, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

WILMINGTON, Del. -- She had been lurking on the periphery for two rounds, booming drives and missing putts and making the rest of the players at Du Pont Country Club in the $1.1 million McDonald's LPGA Championship glance nervously over their shoulders.

The putts began to fall for Britain's Laura Davies with more regularity late yesterday afternoon. A 12-footer for birdie at 12. A tap-in for birdie after a near-miss for eagle at 16. A 6-footer for birdie at 17.

Suddenly, she was no longer lurking.

Suddenly, she was leading.

Or at least taking a share of the lead at 2-under-par 211 with 1991 champion Meg Mallon. After matching rounds of 2-under 69, Davies and Mallon are being pursued most closely by one of the longest-suffering players in LPGA tour history and its latest Hall of Famer.

Alice Ritzman, who hasn't won in her 17 years as a pro, lost the lead with bogeys on two of the last four holes, including a three-footer at 18 for a 71 that put her at 1-under 212.

She is tied with three-time champion and second-round co-leader Patty Sheehan, whose last victory was in this tournament a year ago at Bethesda Country Club. Sheehan seemed on the verge of collapse with a stretch of three bogeys in four holes on the front nine, but managed a 1-over 72.

Others in the hunt include Beth Daniel, who won the tournament in 1990 and got back into contention at 1-over with a 3-under 68 yesterday. Also at 1-over was Sweden's Lisalotte Neumann, who won the 1988 U.S. Women's Open at Five Farms and had the day's best round, a 4-under 67. Then there was Davies, who went quickly from contender to co-leader.

"At one point I was four shots behind, so obviously it's nice to be tied for the lead," said Davies, 30, who won a regular tour stop here last year and is coming off a one-shot win over Mallon at the Sara Lee Classic, her second LPGA victory this year. "If you're within four or five shots going into the final day, you have a chance."

Despite making a bogey on the 192-yard, par-3 eighth hole that put her at 1 over and four behind Ritzman at the time, and !B missing a handful of birdie putts on the first 11 holes, Davies kept giving herself chances. But she couldn't seem to close the gap until the last few holes.

After missing four straight putts from less than eight feet starting on the par-5 ninth hole, Davies finally made her first birdie on the par-4 12th hole. After narrowly missing birdie putts of six, 20 and 25 feet on 13, 14 and 15, and an eagle putt of 10 feet on 16, Davies made birdies of a foot and six feet on 16 and 17 to tie for the lead.

"From nine through 17, that's the best I've ever hit it," said Davies.

Not that Mallon, or Ritzman for that matter, hit it poorly. Mallon, who has never played well here in the past, chipped in to go 1 under at No. 2, made pars through 10, then birdied the par-5 11th and the par-4 12th, the latter coming on a 10-footer after she stepped away when a policeman's horse snorted from an adjacent road.

"It was kind of funny," said Mallon. "I was just going over my line, and I had to back off. It was kind of fun to tell the policeman to go away. It's a nice power to have."

Mallon's fun was interrupted when a four-footer for par lipped out at 13 -- the same green Juli Inkster had five-putted earlier in the day -- and Ritzman had birdied to regain sole possession of the lead. Mallon then bogeyed the par-4 15th hole, but Ritzman followed with a bogey. Mallon recovered her composure, as well as a share of the lead, with a birdie at the short par-5 16th.

"Another patient day," Mallon said. "One more to go."

Ritzman, 42, will need more than patience to break her 0-for-401 tournament drought. She will need a little luck, something that has been severely lacking considering her seven second-place finishes and three sudden-death losses. Ritzman, who nearly quit earlier this year because of disc problems in her neck, will need some more distance off the tee.

And she will need a little help from the others in contention, which she never seems to get. "It seems like every time I'm playing well there's a Hall-of-Famer or someone lurking around," said Ritzman, who once lost when Betsy King fired a final-round 63 to force a playoff.

Davies is no longer lurking. She is leading, and looking forward to a second straight final-round shootout with Mallon and the possibility of finally backing up her first major championship seven years ago at the U.S. Women's Open.

But Mallon also has an Open victory and doesn't seem intimidated by the prospects of facing Davies in the final group again. She even broached the idea to Davies on the putting green before yesterday's round.

"Meg said to me, 'C'mon, let's have another battle tomorrow,' " Davies said, referring to their down-to-the-final hole shootout in Nashville.

It should be a battle.

But not just between those two. The way things have gone here this week, it could be a cast of thousands.

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