Golf: Davies tames the elements

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The Independent Online
FEELING SORRY for estate agents does not come naturally, especially when they are on to a healthy commission on a deal worth over pounds 100m, but the day after it was put up for sale, Gleneagles, the brainchild of a former managing director of the Caledonian Railway Company, was not to be seen at its best yesterday.

When it was not blowing a gale or pouring with rain, the low cloud hid the glories of the Perthshire hills. Out on the King's Course, where the madly tilting flagsticks carried the sponsor's logo, those playing in the first round of the McDonald's WPGA Championship were tested to full on James Braid's timeless masterpiece. Laura Davies could not have been happier with a level par 72, matched by her playing partner, Helen Alfredsson.

It was a day to throw out the yardage book. "It wakes up your golfing senses," said Alfredsson, the defending champion. "You couldn't put yourself on automatic. The yardage was only a guide - it was always one or two clubs more or less than usual."

With only a handful of players managing to get to one under par, including Trish Johnson, Catriona Matthew and Marie-Laure de Lorenzi, Davies was delighted with her position and a forecast of more of the same in the meteorological line. "It was not pleasant out there but, as for my chances in the tournament, the rougher it is the better it is for me," she said. "The players at the top of the leaderboard are the ones that relish these conditions."

But, conscious that women's golf needs to do everything it can to promote itself, Davies was also hoping the weather would improve. "This is not good for TV or for the galleries," she said. "They are battling the elements as well. I looked at them with the rain going sideways and wondered what they were doing out there. I don't think I would have been."

The Englishwoman had never seen a holed putt long than the 28-yarder Alfredsson sank on the fifth but the Swede also three-putted five times. Two of these came at par-fives when she stood over an eagle putt, including at the last, which made for a frustrating finish.

While others had described how short putts, with the ball oscillating on the green, can be the worst part of playing in a strong wind, Alfredsson was, characteristically, not having any of it. "I think it was more me," she said. "My putting was pretty disgusting."

The third member of the group was Mhairi McKay, the Scot who contended at the US Women's Open and who recovered from an outward 41 here to finish on two over. McKay, whose appearance in this tournament a year ago was her last as an amateur, has become a candidate for a wild card selection for the Solheim Cup team - but has said she has a prior commitment as bridesmaid at her sister Fiona's wedding.

"I don't disagree with that," said Davies. "Some things are more important than the Solheim Cup. Not many, but there are some." Davies' own brother will get married during the Ryder Cup next year to ensure his sister can attend. Darren Clarke yesterday pulled out of next week's USPGA Championship to remain with his wife and newly born son.

The great love in Johnson's life is Arsenal FC and only last week she was fined for wearing a replica shirt, although so far the 32-year-old who learned her golf at the exposed links of Westward Ho! has only read about it in the papers.

As for her team joining a breakaway super league, Johnson is not a fan. "I'm not for it," she said. "It won't be the same without if we are not playing West Ham or Tottenham and all those shocking teams at the bottom!"