NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Laura Davies heard last fall that Mount Vintage Plantation was her kind of course. She showed it Thursday, shooting a 5-under 67 to take the first-round lead in the Asahi Ryokuken International.
Davies was scheduled to play in the inaugural tournament last September, but was overseas and pulled out of the LPGA's first event after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I heard all my friends who play here say it was very hilly, and then tell they thought it would really suit my game," said Davies, who finished two shots ahead of Grace Park.
When Davies played in the pro-am, she knew she'd found a place to love.
"There's no out of bounds. There's very little water. I can stand up on the tee with confidence. And if I hit in the trees, you can find it and get it out," she said.
Park, who won her first LPGA tournament in 2000 in South Carolina's Grand Strand area, continued her strong play in the Palmetto State. However, she bogeyed the 18th hole for a 69.
Annika Sorenstam, coming off a victory last week in the Aerus Electrolux USA Championship, started with back-to-back birdies. She finished with an even-par 72 after holing a 35-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.
Davies, known in some circles as the John Daly of the LPGA, typically blasts her way around courses with a tremendous power game. Here, Davies used as many 2- and 3-irons off the tee as her driver, covered by a forlorn looking shaggy dog cover.
The strategy left Davies in about all the right positions to take advantage of Mount Vintage's slick, sliding greens.
She rolled in 25-foot putt for birdie on the 11th hole, her second, and made an incredible, 80-footer for eagle on the par-5 16th. "It was kind of an impossible, snaking putt that went in, so that was kind of fun," Davies said.
She hit a wedge to 15 feet for a birdie on No. 5, and a wedge to 10 feet on the par-3 seventh for another birdie. Davies took the lead by reaching the par-5 ninth in two and two-putting from 35 feet.
"It was kind of surprising since usually, if you don't hit 5-under on the first day, you're out of the top 10," Davies said. "This is actually a very good start to the tournament."
Davies was one of the enjoying the hilly slopes and grinding play at Mount Vintage.
"I live in Tampa, so it was a Busch Gardens kind of day," said Dawn Coe-Jones, tied with Janice Moodie, Carin Koch and Jeong Jang at 2-under 70.
Several player were still on the course, including 12-year-old Michelle Wie of Hawaii.
Coe-Jones, who said the Florida theme park has some of the world's top roller coasters, would know about up and downs. She chipped in to birdie the first hole, then missed a 6-footer to bogey the second. A 7-iron to 5 feet on the fourth hole led to birdie, while a bad drive on the fifth led to bogey.
And so it went for just about every player.
"The long hills, the fast greens, the sidehill lies, it all made things difficult," Sorenstam said. "But I've always been a grinder, that's just the way I am."
Angela Buzminski, a rookie from Canada, looked ready to run away from the field going 4 under through her first eight holes in the morning. But Buzminski, like so many others, couldn't keep her edge and finished at 72.
"I counted the flat lies I had out there today," Buzminski said. "It was one ... one. The last few holes, I felt so worn out."
The rest of the field knew the feeling.
Divots: Natalie Gulbis, the 19-year-old rookie coming off a career-best eighth-place finish in the Electrolux, shot a 78. "It's frustrating when you're hitting the ball well, coming off a good tournament and almost embarrass yourself," she said. ... Rookie Clarissa Childs, a former assistant golf coach at the University of South Carolina, is sponsored by Hootie and the Blowfish. The four band members also went to South Carolina. Childs shot a 75 in her first LPGA round. ... Emilee Klein has had a much better start than last year's Asahi Ryokuken. This past September, Klein said part of the roof of her hotel room collapsed right before the tournament began. "You wouldn't believe how fast I left that place," said Klein, who wouldn't say where she stayed in 2001.
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