For the three players who walked away Thursday with a share of the first-round lead in the $330,000 Uniden LPGA Invitational tournament, it wasn't so much how they started or how they finished but when they started.
The list of tee-off times told it all. Those whose names came up early--say 7:30 or 8 a.m.--knew they were in for some trouble. Besides Mesa Verde's expansive fairways and unpredictable greens, those with the bad luck of the draw also had to battle the morning rains and winds that came to Costa Mesa.
But those receiving an afternoon starting time, after the weather had broken and sun had begun to dry the course, received a major break.
Alice Miller, Pat Meyers and Bonnie Lauer are testimony to that.
All three stroked their first shots at noon or later, and all three came into the clubhouse at 70, two-under-par for the course.
It was almost as if the 144-player field was playing in two separate tournaments. Patty Sheehan, Judy Clark and rookie Nancy Ledbetter led the early risers, trudging across soggy grass and hitting through erratic winds to finish at one-under-par 71.
Then out came the sun, gone were the winds, and the trio of Miller, Meyers and Lauer began to shine.
"I got the best part of the day, without a doubt," Lauer said. "The first hole, I hit into the wind, but that was it. After that, the wind died down and it really wasn't much of a factor."
And that came as a surprise to both Miller and Meyers.
Miller, expecting the worst, dressed the part. "I was looking forward to a cold, miserable, wet day," Miller said. "I overdressed for the round. I had the long underwear and everything. I had to change when I got out on the course."
Meyers simply feared the worst. A bad case of the flu kept her out of last week's Samaritan Turquoise tournament at Phoenix and threatened her status in this event. She gave the course a trial run in Wednesday's Pro-Am tournament and, by her own account, "played like a dog."
Then, Meyers woke up Thursday morning to be greeted by cold rains and winds. Just the prescription for a golfer combating the flu.
"With it raining, I thought it (playing) might not be the best move to make," Meyers said. "But I was feeling a little better and I decided to see how I'd fare.
"It helped that I got the best part of the shift. By the time I got out there, most of the cold weather was gone."
For a while, it appeared that another late starter, Sue Ertl, had forced a four-way tie atop the standings. But a foul-up in communications between the course and the press tent had erroneously credited Ertl with a birdie on Hole No. 4 when the birdie actually belonged to another player in Ertl's group, Jane Crafter.
It wasn't until Ertl was ushered into the press tent to discuss how she joined the first-round leaders that it was discovered that she really hadn't joined the first-round leaders.
Oh well. "I guess I'll have to make up that stroke tomorrow," Ertl said with a smile.
Lauer joined the leaders with some flash and flair, which distinguished her on a day when most of the golf was as drab as the morning skies.
Lauer was quietly plugging along at even-par, starting on the back nine and going unnoticed for 16 holes. But on the 17th hole of her round (No. 8 on the course), Lauer hit her second shot, an 8-iron, strongly into the wind, and the ball wound up in the cup for an eagle.
Suddenly, the name Lauer appeared on the leaders board.
Lauer didn't see the shot. In fact, she didn't realize what had happened until she saw a course marshal raise both arms in the air.
"I didn't know if it was a field goal or what," Lauer joked. "It was hard to tell by the reaction. We were the only ones out there. The ball disappeared over the green, and it wasn't until we got a little closer that I knew something had happened."
Miller and Meyers produced their scores of 70 differently--driving well enough to get by and putting up a storm. Miller had only 26 putts on the 18 holes, Meyers 28.
"I would have been very happy with par," Miller said. "I expected to play through a steady drizzle, but that didn't happen and the wind never did pick up. I got a real break on the tee times."
The question now is: Can any of them maintain the pace? No LPGA player, in five years of tournament competition, has ever broken par at Mesa Verde for four rounds.
"If the conditions are ideal all week, two-, three- or four-under could win the tournament," Miller said. But, as she had to admit, that's rather wishful thinking.
"I don't plan to get through this week without any wind," Miller said.