WILMINGTON, Del. -- The foreign influence on the LPGA tour -- four winners in the nine events this year -- continued in the first round of the McDonald's Championship yesterday.
Laura Davies, a long-hitting Englishwoman whose game seems admirably suited to this long-playing course, birdied her final hole for a 5-under-par 66 and a share of the lead with Canadian Gail Graham.
The 6,389-yard DuPont Country Club, softened by overnight rain and a mid-day shower, was very forgiving for those able to keep the ball out of heavy club-twisting rough. There were 16 subpar rounds out of 144.
Among those who had to scramble were the three with Maryland ties. Baltimorean Tina Barrett struggled throughout, but recovered well enough to shoot 37-36--73. Her par-matching back nine showed a birdie, a bogey, and seven straight pars for a side that included 12 putts. Former Kensington resident Michelle Mackall said the course played too long for her after shooting 37-37--74, and Kim Wiliams of Potomac returned 36-38--74.
The co-leaders, each 29, and with strikingly opposite backgrounds, shot to the top by dominating one nine. Graham started at No. 1 and reached the turn in 5-under-par 30, then played even on the back for 36. Davies started at No. 10, turned in 5-under 31, then matched par of 35 on the front.
Graham, from British Columbia and a graduate of Lamar University, has shown slow but steady improvement during a three-year tour career. The 66 is a competitive best, lowering her previous mark of 67, set in Hawaii in February where she had a season best of a tie for 10th.
"Five under and nine holes to play, I was definitely nervous," she said, "but a birdie at No. 10 [from 40 feet] told me things were going my way. After that I tried really hard not to look ahead."
Where Graham's best tour finish has been a tie for sixth in last year's U.S. Women's Open, Davies has a U.S. Open title among her four tour wins, as well as a history of success in Europe and Asia.
This season, Davies points to concentrated work on her short game as the chief reason for getting off to what, for her, has been a quick start --money in six of seven events, including two ties for 12th.
Hometown favorite Lauri Merten, first off the 10th tee in the morning, and Patty Sheehan, first off No. 10 in the afternoon, each posted 34-34--68 to be two strokes off the pace. The 68 by Sheehan was her low round since qualifying for the LPGA Hall of Fame with a win in Phoenix in March, a span that covered 16 rounds over five events. "I haven't been playing well, but I putted better (29).
"It wasn't beautiful, but I'm very happy, considering the way I've played the last few weeks," she said. "Any time you shoot a sub-par opening round, it's a good feeling."
NOTES: The 30 by Graham and 31 by Davies equaled tournament records for front and back nines, respectively. . . . The four at 69 included Juli Inkster, the 1986 champion, on the rebound after having missed three successive cuts. . . . There were two eagles, one by Caroline Keggi at the 498-yard ninth, and one by Meg Mallon at the 395-yard 15th. . . . The field averaged 74.25 strokes.