Davies drives on Route 66

Solid long game has her 2 shots up in LPGA Championship

June 24, 2000|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, Del. - After two days in difficult conditions at a major tournament, there's bound to be moaning and groaning coming from the locker room. There are players telling sob stories of balls lost in wiry rough or wedge shots bounding off the back of stony greens.

But in the midst of the lamentations, a bit of laughter comes from a wry smile in the corner. It is Laura Davies, watching with a grin that grows larger by the second.

"When I walk in the locker room and I hear all the whining about, `It's long. It's tough', I just lick my chops," said Davies, who holds the 36-hole lead in the McDonald's LPGA Championship after a blistering second-round 66. "It's a major championship and there's a lot of whining that goes on. They like the shorter, easier golf courses. I like the longer, tougher golf courses. That's just the way it is."

Specifically, she likes the longer ones, where she can capitalize on her tremendous length off the tee. Davies spends much of her time on tour throttling back, never letting her driving game get out of second gear. But at DuPont Country Club, Davies is hitting "five 3-irons and nine drivers" on the non-par 3's, she says, which is a refreshing change for her.

She's practicing a lot more, too, which also is a change for the Englishwoman who spent much of her career abiding by this theory: "If I can't see the range, I won't go to the range.""[Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam] have raised the level out here," said Davies, who may have been thinking of her 1994 and '96 victories here as she walked off the 18th green doused in applause. "Annika has been good for a long time, but Karrie has come along and all of a sudden she's playing extra, extra well. There are players who cannot reach the height that she's doing, and I'm trying to get just that little bit better."

Davies made six birdies for the second straight day yesterday but only one bogey, as opposed to the five she endured Thursday. A two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th was followed by an 8-iron to three inches on the 17th, then a 15-footer on 18 to leave her at 6-under 136, two shots clear of Wendy Ward and three in front of Jan Stephenson and Stefania Croce.

Stephenson, 48, was the victim of a 1990 Miami mugging, which left her golf career on the brink of extinction. She struggled to succeed for years after the incident. Yesterday, however, she was steady, moving the ball around the course with a new swing - one she has been working on with a new coach, Australian Gary Edwin.

"The only thing good about [the mugging] is that it's a chance to start over," said Stephenson, who was forced to have surgery after her attacker yanked at the purse on her arm, bending the fingers on her left hand so far beyond their capacity that the tendons were permanently damaged. She has metal screws in her left ring finger and battles numbness up and down her arm. Her new swing relies on her right side - the stronger side - and lets her play a left-to-right fade on her shots, which is something most female players don't do.

"I went to every coach and none of them could help me," she said. "They said, `Your left side doesn't work, you're just going to have to play with a hook. I refused to believe that."

The consensus among the players is that scores will continue to hover at or just below par, meaning that a low round from anyone on the weekend would put them in contention. Defending champion Juli Inkster would be a perfect candidate for a move today, since her magnificent performance here last year has shown she can score on this course. No doubt that history will be on her mind anyway, since the 22-time tour winner is celebrating her 40th birthday today as well.

"I'm very pleased with a couple under out there," said Inkster, who is lurking at 1-under after carding a 69. "The rough wasn't up last year and it just wasn't as tough as this year. This is a true test."

A test that Davies has passed with flying colors before, and one that she hopes will continue to challenge the rest of the field.

"Of all the golf courses we play all year, this is the only one that genuinely is a real advantage to the long hitters," she said. "I wouldn't say I come back expecting to win, but I really fancy my chances every time I come here. I really think that if I can just play my best, I have a good chance."

LPGA Championship

The leader ... Laura Davies 70-66-136... and selected followers Wendy Ward 69-69-138

Jan Stephenson 70-69-139

Jane Geddes 66-74-140

Juli Inkster 72-69-141

Se Ri Pak 73-69-142

Karrie Webb 72-70-142

A. Sorenstam 70-73-143

Nancy Lopez 74-73-147

Complete scores. [Page 10C]

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