Davies emerges from LPGA pack for 2nd major win

May 16, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

WILMINTON, DEL — WILMINGTON, Del. -- Laura Davies spent part of last week shuttling back and forth between here and Atlantic City, between gambling on the golf course and betting in the casinos.

The 30-year-old from Great Britain admittedly didn't do well during her nightly jaunts, and was a little coy about how many times she went. "More than once, but not more than twice," she said.

Davies recouped all of her losses and more here yesterday -- $165,000 to be exact -- by winning the $1.1 million McDonald's LPGA Championship at Du Pont Country Club.

With a final round of 3-under-par 68 and a four-round total of 5-under 279, Davies broke away from a rotating pack of contenders to win by three shots over long-suffering Alice Ritzman.

"It's great to win a major, but it's great to win any tournament," said Davies. "I've played well before, but nothing like this. It's really unbelievable."

That's about the only way to describe the way Davies has played this year. The victory wasn't merely her second here in as many years -- last year's tournament

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wasn't a major -- it was also her second win in as many weeks.

By winning the second major championship of her career and finally backing up her out-of-nowhere playoff victory at the U.S. Women's Open seven years ago, Davies continued a dominant stretch that now includes three LPGA Tour victories in nine events this year and four victories worldwide.

"She is the best woman player in the world," LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem said in introducing Davies to the crowd near the 18th green last night.

The victory raised her 1994 tour earnings to $467,628, more than $200,000 more than any other player has made. It also pushed Davies to more than $1 million in LPGA earnings, making her the 28th millionaire in the tour's history.

Unlike the Nabisco Dinah Shore Championship, where she three-putted the final hole to lose the year's first major by a stroke to Donna Andrews, Davies was as dominating on the greens as she was off the tee.

As Ritzman told Davies after the round, "You're too tough for me."

Ritzman, 42, saw her 17-year winless streak increase to 402 tournaments despite a gallant round that began with bogeys on two of the first three holes and ended with a 1-under-par 70. It was the eighth runner-up finish of her career, her first in a major.

"When I looked at the scoreboard for the first time, it was on 18 and the first thing I saw was that I wasn't going to win," said Ritzman, who earned $102,000 and a legion of fans for her gutty performance.

The way Davies played yesterday, no one was going to catch her. A stretch of four birdies in five holes on the back nine helped propel her into the lead. Two of the birdies came after Davies drove through the fair

way at 14 and 15, after similarly adventurous tee shots at the ninth and 11th holes that resulted in pars.

"The luck I had on the back nine was incredible," said Davies, whose most remarkable recovery came after she put her tee shot at the 498-yard, par-5 ninth hole 35 yards to the right of the fairway. "When I hit bad shots, I wasn't really penalized. I got pretty good lies on all of them. You're not meant to win if you don't have that kind of luck."

Other contenders' errant shots (five players led at one point or another) were strewn all over the course. The stray shots began when her third-round co-leader, Meg Mallon, double-bogeyed after putting her drive into a pond at No. 3. They continued when three-time champion Patty Sheehan went from having a share of the lead with Davies after 10 to being five shots behind after 14.

Then there were the ill-fated

charges of Hall of Famer Pat Bradley and Sweden's Lisalotte Neumann, both of whom finished tied for third with Japan's Hiromi Kobayashi and Elaine Crosby. They came in at 1-under 283 after final rounds of 4-under 67.

And finally there was Ritzman, whose own comeback fell short when she bladed a wedge over the 16th green to fall back to 2 under.

"All day everyone was making a move and I was sort of just hanging around," said Davies, who lost her share of the lead with a bogey at the second hole, tied Sheehan with a birdie at 11 and took the lead for good with another birdie at 12. "It really looked like Meg and I were going to get swamped. But all of them started dropping off again."

It left an opening for Davies to barge through, blasting her 280-yard drives all over the place, then making perfect recoveries and putting with a surgeon's touch on the greens. It was the way she had played on the back nine Saturday in her move to the top, which at the time Davies said was the best stretch of golf she had ever played.

And yesterday?

"I'm still riding it," said Davies. "Who knows what's going to happen now? It's fun. If I miss every cut the rest of the year, it's still a great year. But I'm not going to miss every cut."

Nor will she win every tournament she plays the rest of the year. Or win every bet she makes. Davies says there are a lot of similarities between the gambling she does on the course and off, whether it means going for the green in two on a par-5 or betting on everything except golf.

But Davies has had enough of Atlantic City for now, and will head to Hershey for this week's tournament instead.

"I donated enough to Donald," she said.

And recouped all of it, and more, here yesterday.

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