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GOLF / DINAH SHORE TOURNAMENT : Two Long Hitters Share Lead


RANCHO MIRAGE — Just as Jan Stephenson was in the '70s and '80s, Michelle McGann is the glamour star of women's golf in the '90s.

Her trademark is a colorful ensemble with a coordinated wide-brim hat. She is easily recognizable from the distance of a Laura Davies drive.

But there is more to McGann--just as there is to Stephenson--than glamour. At 24, the long-hitting Floridian is a budding star on the LPGA. Although she has failed to win in six years, McGann has shown steady improvement.

And on a cloudy, but rainless, Friday here, McGann shot a 68, four under par, at Mission Hills Country Club that put her into a tie with England's long-hitting Davies at the halfway point of the $700,000 Nabisco Dinah Shore. Both are six under par with identical 70-68--138 cards for 36 holes.

Just one shot behind are Donna Andrews, Alice Miller and Stephenson. Stephenson, slowly returning to form after a mugging nearly ended her career in 1990, shot a 69 in the second round. Nancy Lopez, tied for the first-round lead, is at 140, two shots back, after shooting a 72.

The Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills is 6,446 yards, one of the longest on the tour, so it is not surprising that last year's two longest hitters are tied for the lead.

Davies averaged 253.9 yards, McGann 251.3. That's a bit deceptive, though. McGann uses a driver most of the time, whereas the powerful Davies usually hits a two-iron.

Most of the women players are in awe of Davies. She played the first two rounds with Lopez, who marvels at her ability.

"I love to watch her hit the ball," Lopez said. "I'm a pretty long driver, compared to the other girls, but I'm not close to Laura. If she started hitting her driver all the time and kept it in the fairway, we would be in real trouble.

"After making two bogeys in a row, Laura pulled out her driver on the 16th. I hit a good drive and she outdrove me 85 yards. She plays a different game."

Davies explained why she hasn't used her driver more than four times a round here.

"This, like most of the courses, is designed for the back tees," she said. "I'm not complaining, but our courses are set up for the average hitter. I've noticed that if I hit my driver, I face much more trouble unless I hit it absolutely straight. The fairways narrow at that point and traps are a problem. Maybe my game is better because I think these things out now."

Davies had seven birdies, but she had some problems from the tees and also had three bogeys.

McGann, in the first group of the day off No. 10, went out in 33, had her only bogey on No. 3, her 12th hole, and missed several other birdie chances.

McGann, who went directly from high school to the tour, has shown improvement each year. She was No. 12 on the money list, earning $315,000 last year.

She credits Dave Stockton, the player of the year on the Senior PGA Tour, for part of her improvement. She met him several years ago when she was a classmate of Dave Jr., now on the regular tour.

"He has been very helpful," she said. "He is such a great putter. While everyone has their own style, he has stressed following through and I feel I'm getting better as a putter.

"He also has helped my mental game after I told him about my troubles getting started. He told me I should start out thinking I was three shots behind. And, you know, (although) I bogeyed the first three holes yesterday, I can still win it. I know I'll win soon."

Stephenson, 42, was advised that it was a good time to retire after a mugger in Miami severely injured her left hand.

"I was determined that I would be back," she said. "I really worked to get myself in condition. I am approaching a peak that will make me better than I ever was."

Stephenson said she had given some advice to McGann.

"I told her not to get upset because some of the players resent all the attention she gets," Stephenson said. "She'll be a great star because she's more mature than I was at her age."

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