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A Good Day for Golfers, a Bad One for Tourney

February 28, 1986|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

The first round of the Uniden LPGA Invitational usually generates all the excitement of an oil change and lube job. Let's see, a virtual unknown makes an appearance on the leader board, someone complains about the Mesa Verde Country Club greens, hot dogs sell well. The usual.

But Thursday's opening round was chock-full of news flashes, including word that Uniden, sponsor of the event for the last three years, is leaving to underwrite its own tournament in Los Angeles County. What happens next is still unclear, but it appears that Mesa Verde will become an LPGA orphan--again.

Too bad, since there was enough noteworthy golf in Round One to justify a return. By day's end, four players--Amy Benz, Laura Baugh, Cathy Morse and Patty Sheehan--were tied for the lead with four-under-par 68s. In the previous two Unidens, no one had shot anything less than a 69 on the first day, and that's when Mesa Verde played to a par 71.

Jan Stephenson, Beth Daniel, Hollis Stacy, Becky Pearson, Cindy Rarick and Val Skinner are a stroke back, and Cathy Kratzert, Dale Eggeling, Mary Beth Zimmerman and Muffin Spencer-Devlin are two shots behind after rounds of 70.

But wait, there's more. Marlene Hagge, who has been on the women's tour since 1950, made a hole-in-one on the par-three, 167-yard third hole. Good thing, too, since she needed 76 other strokes to finish her round. And Laurie Rinker was so displeased with her three-over-par 75 that she angrily threw her ball into the pond near the 18th green after her final putt.

For the most part, though, there were more smiles than frowns. And why not? The Mesa Verde greens were unusually generous, and the wind made only infrequent visits. That helped, as did some strange exploits by the leaders.

Sheehan spent her round in various locales away from the fairways. Her birdie on No. 1, a 440-yard par-five, typified her day, which also included a drive that landed among the trees, followed by a 5-iron shot to the fringe, followed by a short wedge and then a 30-foot putt that dropped without protest.

Before it was over, Sheehan had scrambled her way into a share of the lead, although she's not quite sure how. All it took were shots like the one on No. 4, where she chipped over the green on her third shot but still managed par. There was a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 5 and then an improbable 40-foot bunker shot on No. 11 that popped out of the sand and into the cup.

"I was walking up 15 and I was thinking, 'This is such an easy day,' " she said. "Then I looked at my card. I only hit nine greens," she said. "I didn't really play all that pretty today. A pretty bizarre round."

Then there was Morse, who has spent nine years on the tour, then decided last winter to change her game. "I changed my grip, stance, setup, everything," she said.

It worked. Morse hit 15 greens. She also used new clubs and a swing that encourages a hook rather than her natural fade shot. For good measure, she changed her putter three days ago. By the way, Morse has played once in the last two weeks.

"I just took a chance," she said.

Baugh used more orthodox methods to earn a share of the lead. First, she took advantage of Mesa Verde's par-three holes, scoring birdies on three of the four.

So here is Baugh in the unfamiliar position of co-leader. Known more for her beauty than her golf game, Baugh never has earned more than $49,301 in a single season. A victory at the Uniden brings $49,500.

"I could just quit then," she said. "It would be my best year then."

Benz had one of the more consistent rounds of the day. Except for a brief scare on No. 17, a difficult par-four hole, she never flirted with a bogey. Instead, Benz gave herself numerous chances for birdies and easy pars.

"I had my opportunities," she said. "I made a few of them and I missed a few of them. I definitely could have been better."

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