Davis, Graham remain 2 ahead in McDonald's


WILMINGTON, Del. -- Laura Davies and Gail Graham ended the day where they had started -- tied for the lead and two strokes clear of the field in the annual McDonald's Championship at DuPont Country Club yesterday.

Each had four birdies and two bogeys in shooting 2-under-par 69s for 36-hole totals of 135. The 66-69 start is Graham's best in four tour seasons.

Now she is faced with playing in today's final twosome with Davies, who has four wins and a low LPGA round of 62.

Lauri Merten (two wins and a low round of 65), an 11-year pro from nearby Greenville, was alone at 137 after shooting 69. Betsy King, a past winner here, followed at 67138.

The cut fell at 6-over-par 148, and 84 golfers will play the last two rounds, including Tina Barrett of Baltimore (73-72) and Kim Williams of Bethesda (74-72). Michelle Mackall, a one-time Kensington resident, had 74-77151.

Merten, cheered on by a large local -- and vocal -- following, eagled the 381-yard sixth hole, where she struck a seven-iron shot that hit 20 feet in front of the cup and rolled in.

Of the first-round pacesetters, Graham appeared the most likely to fall off the leader board. She was tied with Davies for the lead, with new Hall of Fame member Patty Sheehan and Merten two shots back.

Graham does not have the credentials of the others, never has really been in contention -- her best finish has been a tie for sixth in last year's U.S. Open at Oakmont -- but she has made four successive cuts.

"I'm a little surprised how calm I am," she said afterward. "I don't have any glaring problems in my game, and I'm relaxed."

She said she would be relaxed today -- a late tee time yesterday did not seem to bother her -- and would not be intimidated by Davies, who, at 5-foot-10, is seven inches taller. Each has weight to put into a solid swing, but Davies averages 250 yards off the tee to 231 for Graham.

"She'll blow it by me; I know she will," said Graham. "I have played with her a few times and you just have to concentrate on what you do. I can only control me. I just have to stay within my own head."

Coming here, Graham had played 25 rounds this season, but had not had two rounds in the 60s in any week until last week in Nashville, where she shot a pair of 69s around a 74, and tied for 28th.

Davies said that she has been playing as well as she has this week all year, but hasn't been scoring this well. "I hit it straighter than the first day and was able to hit the driver on all but three holes.

"My friends really got excited about the eagle," said Merten, who had seven a year ago, but none this season. "I just tried to maintain an even level."

Merten, 32, is three years older than the co-leaders. She won twice in her first two tour years, but has not won since. "At a time like this, you want to keep the momentum going. It's all timing. If it's your turn to win, you will make the putts."

For her second round, Barrett hit the ball better, but did not putt as well (34 against 25). "I'm not hitting the ball well, but I was proud of this round. I did a better job of handling the situation. Yesterday, I tried to fight it. This time, I accepted what happened and tried to make the best of it."

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