Laura Davies, who stumbled home in the first round with two late bogeys, teased the field by extending that hiccup into Tuesday’s second round of the Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank. But after a pair of early bogeys, Davies found the form that fashioned a 68 on Monday and backed it up with a 70 that put her at six-under-par 138 going to the final round, two strokes ahead of Brandi Burton.
The bone-chilling weather of Monday at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick was much improved – warmer, certainly less windy and when the sun was out it felt downright balmy. Still, it took Dame Laura a while to warm up while Burton was blazing, fashioning a bogey-free six-under-par 66, the best round of the tournament, to be at 140.
Davies and Burton will be chased Wednesday by Silvia Cavalleri and Jane Crafter at 141; Michele Redman, Helen Alfredsson and Liselotte Neumann at 142 and Vicki Goetz-Ackerman and Maria McBride at 143. Defending champion Trish Johnson is at 146 and Juli Inkster, who opened with a 69, one stroke off Davies’ lead, struggled to an 80 on Tuesday and is at 149.
Davies made bogeys on Nos. 1 and 4 to relinquish the lead to Neumann, one of her playing partners, who birdied Nos. 1 and 3. But as Davies was kicking it into high gear, making birdies on Nos. 5, 7 and 11 with no bogeys over the final 14 holes, Neumann was making bogeys on Nos. 9, 12, 13 and 15 as she shot a 73.
“ I had a couple of bogeys early on, but I didn’t panic,” Davies said. “I three-putted No. 1 and No. 4 but I birdied the fifth and that settled me down. I’m playing with a bit of confidence now and that’s good to have going into the final round.”
Burton, a five-time LPGA winner and at 46 one of the youngest players in the field where the age cutoff is 45, made six birdies and no bogeys, closing with a 32 on the back nine. As did pretty much everyone, she was ebullient over the improved weather.
“I could actually feel my hands today, “ Burton said. “I hit 16 greens and drove the ball really well.” Asked what she’s done to stay competitively sharp, Burton said: “I haven’t [done anything]. I only played three events this year. I just kept practicing and tried to stay in my routine. It will be nice to go into tomorrow and have some confidence. This is my lowest round in a long time.”
Crafter, who will be 63 in December, is the most veteran of those on the leaderboard going into the final round. And like many, she had no idea what to expect from her game this week.
“I had a pretty good practice coming into this, but you never know how you are going to hold up in competition,” Crafter said. But she was able to dig deep both physically and emotionally.
“I learned last night that we lost our friend Shelley Hamlin,” she said about the former LPGA player who succumbed to breast cancer on Monday at age 69. “I kind of played with a little angel on my shoulder and it lessened the load a bit.”
The final threesome Wednesday of Davies, Burton and Cavalleri will tee off at 12:48 p.m., right behind the trio of Crafter, Alfredsson and Redman with Neumann, Goetz-Ackerman and McBride ahead of them. The live action will be on Golf Channel from 4-6 p.m. ET.
“You have to stay aggressive here because you don’t want to hit 4- and 5-irons into these greens,” Davies said about her game plan for the final round. “I never shot three rounds under par on this course so it will be nice to get rid of that demon. You’ve got a really nice leaderboard. This will be fun tomorrow.”
Weather-wise, Wednesday is forecast to be the best day of the week. Certainly, the Senior LPGA Championship has everything it could ask for: Davies, who won the U.S. Senior Women’s Open in July, is being chased by a slew of players quite capable of catching her.
In its second year, golf’s first major for senior women is exceeding expectations as Davies tries to complete a major sweep in the first year there were two. As she has many times over her remarkable career, Davies is once again trying to make history.