Laura Davies' friends were right. Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club and the long-hitting Englishwomen are a good fit.
In her Asahi Ryokuken International Championship debut Thursday, Davies birdied her first two holes - Nos. 10 and 11. Five holes later, she rolled in an 80-foot eagle putt.
Throw in three more birdies against two bogeys, and it added up to a 5-under-par 67 for the 38-year-old Davies.
It gave her a two-shot lead over Korea's 23-year-old Grace Park after Round 1.
Davies, a winner of 20 LPGA Tour events, four major championships and 43 tournaments worldwide, was one of a group of players who withdrew from last fall's inaugural Asahi Ryokuken.
The tournament in Edgefield County, S.C. came nine days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. At the time, Davies was in England and did not want to fly.
Friends who did play at Mount Vintage had good news for Davies when she returned to the LPGA Tour.
"They thought the course would suit my game because of the doglegs," Davies said. "I hit my driver and irons off the tee left-to-right, so I had a lot of positive thoughts."
The fact that Mount Vintage has little water or out-of-bounds was music to the ears of Davies, who is known as the "John Daly of the women's golf."
"I can stand up on the tee with confidence," Davies said. "If I hit it in the trees, I can find it and get it out, whereas on golf courses that are tight, I struggle mentally. I'm not a wild hitter, really, but the (out-of-bounds) stakes get to me."
On a day when Mount Vintage gave up just 15 sub-par rounds from the 144-player field, Davies and Park were the only ones in the 60s.
Park, tied with Davies with one hole to play, made a bogey on No. 18 while Davies, who started her round on No. 10, made a birdie on No. 9.
Golfers three shots back of Davies are Korea's Jeong Jang, Scotland's Janice Moodie, Sweden's Carin Koch and Canada's Dawn Coe-Jones.
The top American players are Danielle Ammaccapane, Stephanie Keever, Emilee Klein, Kim Williams and Rosie Jones. They are in a nine-player group at 71.
Sweden's Annika Sorenstam, the world's No. 1-ranked player, matched Davies' start with birdies on the first two holes but couldn't keep it going. She settled for a 72. Defending champion Tina Fischer had it to 2-under after five holes but finished with a 75.
Michelle Wie, the 12-year-old amateur from Hawaii, had an 81, and 15-year-old Japanese amateur Shinobu Moromizato shot 77. Augusta's Mitzi Edge opened with a 75.
The field will be trimmed to the low 70 and ties after today's second round.
The players got a taste of what Mount Vintage is really like Thursday. In September, the course was softened by a torrential downpour during the first round. Now, the 6,347-yard course is playing like it normally does.
"It's firm and fast," said Coe-Jones. "In September, the first time around here, everybody was talking about how difficult the golf course is. It's a little more vulnerable when it's soft, like it was in the fall. I guess you could say she's rearing her teeth."
The crispy greens were a hot topic of conversation. Balls were hitting and bouncing to the back or over them all day, instead of checking up.
"They were like cement, like bricks," Jang said of the greens.
"They better put some water on them," Park said. "I mean, on No. 17 I hit an 8-iron to the front of the green and it released 17 yards. I think that's pretty ridiculous."
"They're so hard," Davies said. "Hitting into them is the hardest thing. You can't fire at the pin."
Once on the greens, the players had to contend with severe slopes and breaks.
On her 80-foot eagle putt on No. 16, Davies said the putt broke 8 feet.
"The greens wear you down mentally," Davies said. "There's only so many times you have six breaks in so many putts. You're not going to hit it to 10 feet all day. They are very demanding."
The easiest way to play the greens is to make long putts, like Davies did. The 80-footer she made for on No. 16 is one of the longest of her career.
"It was an impossible, snaking putt," Davies said. "I enjoyed that one."
After picking up some putting tips from watching two-time Masters Tournament winner Jose Maria Olazabal on television two weeks ago, Davies has opened up her stance and dropped her hands. It helped her make birdie putts of 25, 15 and 10 feet Thursday, in addition to her 80-footer.
Park had five birdies and two bogeys at the course she enjoys because of its difficulty.
"I like it because I don't have to shoot 20-under to win," Park said. "I like tough courses, and I like challenges. I prefer to play tough courses like this."
The scores reflected just what a challenge Mount Vintage is. The field was 457-over par for the first round, and the scoring average was 75.196.
"I shot 69 last week in the first round and wasn't even in the top 15," Park said. "And this week, I'm second."
"Usually, if you're not 5-under after day one, you're not in the top 10," Davies said.
It might get tougher over the next three rounds. On Thursday, players noticed the spray-painted dots on the greens, which indicate where the pins will be today.
"There are going to be tougher pins tomorrow and the weekend," Park said. "I'm a little bit worried."
Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.
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