Originally created 06/20/02

Laura Davies returns to defend her Rochester LPGA title



PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A year ago, a new set of clubs helped Laura Davies find the winning edge at the Rochester International.

Not much has changed since. She's still using those graphite-shaft irons and she's still tantalizingly close to making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Only two more victories or one win in a major will give her the 27 points needed to enter the hall.

"That would be nice," Davies said Wednesday as she prepared to defend her Rochester title. "Obviously, it would put you in an elite group of players. But you never count your chickens. I don't worry about it at all. Obviously, it would become more of an issue if I win another tournament. Then I would be one away."

Last year's win at Rochester - Davies finished at 9-under 279 - was a defining moment for the British star, who was the No. 1 female player in the world in the mid-1990s. Because of her poor play early in 2001, she considered taking some time off but decided to play Rochester and beat Wendy Ward and Sweden's Maria Hjorth by three strokes.

"Obviously, that was a confidence-builder," said Davies, who has 20 tour victories. "I came in not confident at all. It was very big for me. Huge."

It was her first victory on the LPGA tour in 16 months, and things are better this year. Davies enters the $1.2 million tournament, which begins Thursday at Locust Hill Country Club, ranked 21st on the money list, 37 spots better than last year.

Joining Davies in the field are Hall of Famers JoAnne Carner, Juli Inkster and Nancy Lopez, who is making her farewell tour this year. Also playing are Se Ri Pak, a two-time winner in 2002, Karrie Webb, and Laura Diaz, who grew up in Scotia, N.Y.

Diaz, who tied her career low with a final round 65 at the Evian Masters in France last week, will be attempting a first - winning both LPGA events in her home state. She led from start to finish in capturing the Corning Classic last month, becoming the first New York native to win that tournament.

Collectively, the 144-player field has won 437 LPGA tournaments, but at least Sweden's Annika Sorenstam won't be in contention. Sorenstam won the Evian Masters for her fifth victory of the year and sixth in 12 events, but she's taking the week off after winning twice in the last three weeks.

Although the forecast for the weekend is for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s, lots of rain has hit upstate New York this spring. After playing in the pro-am this week over the 6,190-yard, par-72 Locust Hill course, Davies knows what it's going to take to win again.

"You're going to have to hit it a long way and putt very well," she said. "The course is very wet and is playing very long, and the greens are small targets and undulating. I don't think you're going to have to go under par very much to win."