SANTA BARBARA — Missie McGeorge matched a career best by shooting a six-under-par 66 at the Sandpiper Golf Course in Goleta Friday, opening a two-stroke lead in the first round of the $300,000 Santa Barbara Open.
Her excitement was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that today she'll have to take on the more challenging La Purisima Golf Course in Lompoc.
Eight players broke par in the opening round of the 54-hole tournament, but none of them did it at La Purisima, where par was matched by only six players.
"Overall, I think that course is two or three shots harder than this one," said McGeorge, who left herself a margin for error today by making seven birdies in cool, overcast weather.
McGeorge, whose highest finish this year has been a tie for 15th three weeks ago at Phoenix, was out of the fairway only once and made only one bogey.
"It's probably the best round I've played in a couple of years," she said. "I only missed two greens, so I had a lot of opportunities for birdies, and I was fortunate to make quite a few of them. I felt real good on the greens today."
Dale Eggeling had to scramble, making two birdies and an eagle in the last four holes, to finish with a 68.
Jane Geddes was at 69, with Sherri Turner and Susan Tonkin tied for fourth at 70. Nina Foust, Marta Figueras-Dotti and Cindy Rarick were at 71.
All of them had the advantage of playing at Sandpiper, where the fairways are wider and the greens larger and softer than those at La Purisima, which was built only seven months ago.
Said Val Skinner, who played La Purisima and is one of 14 players bunched at 72: "The scores will be much higher (at La Purisima) because the greens are very hard to hit. They are long and narrow.
"The course is much tighter than Sandpiper. Par is a very good score on La Purisima. The players from Sandpiper will come across the same problems.
"Sandpiper is a wonderful course, but there's not as much emphasis on being straight as there is here."
And the greens hold so well at Sandpiper, several players said, that they encourage aggressive play.
"It's just like a dart board," said Eggeling, who didn't need her putter after making a 125-foot 8-iron shot for an eagle on No. 17. "You can just throw the ball at the pin."
McGeorge wasn't happy with her round in Thursday's pro-am but felt at home on the range Friday morning.
Still, she said she had no inkling of what was to follow. "I don't wake up in the morning and say, 'Hey, I'm going to shoot a 66,' " she said.
McGeorge, 27, has yet to win an LPGA event in four years on the tour and earned only $23,436, a career high, in 28 tournaments last year.
The soft-spoken, red-haired golfer from Denton, Tex., has missed the cut four times in eight tournaments this year and is 63rd on the money list at $8,391.
"I told myself to just relax, enjoy the day and have fun," she said.
Starting at the 10th hole, she had four birdies on the back nine, two more on Nos. 3 and 4, and then, after bogeying No. 7, had another birdie on No. 8.
She made four putts in the 20-foot range.
"I think, overall, it was a very good day," McGeorge said.
Now, she'll try her luck under more challenging conditions.
The field will be split between the two courses again today, with the low 70 qualifying for Sunday's final round, which will be played at Sandpiper. . . . Betsy King, who leads the LPGA money list at $162,432, withdrew from the tournament. . . . Three of the tour's top four money winners, including Pat Bradley, the 1986 LPGA Player of the Year, and Chris Johnson, are not playing in the Santa Barbara Open. . . . Ayako Okamoto, who won the Kyocera Inamori tournament last week in San Diego, was one of the six players who matched par at La Purisima and is six strokes behind leader Missie McGeorge. . . . Dale Eggeling on Sandpiper: "This is the best public golf course I've ever seen." . . . Earlier in the week, Nancy Tomich called the seaside public course "the poor man's Pebble Beach."