Golf: Inhibited Davies goes to the dogs

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The Independent Online
Laura Davies is standing in the William Hill shop in the middle of the tented village and the betting slips are fluttering around her like confetti. Self-taught and self-disciplined, the world No 1 chooses to study the form of greyhounds at Wimbledon rather than hit balls on the practice ground. "I'm not addicted to gambling," she said."I'm addicted to fun."

The 5ft 10in blonde cuts an unmistakable figure, either on the golf course or in the betting tent, and she seemed to have more fun in the latter after the first round of the Weetabix British Open yesterday. Before the start of one of the biggest tournaments in the world in women's golf, Davies was quoted as 9-2 favourite, odds that were unlikely to tempt her to have a flutter on herself.

The Duke's course at Woburn has never been the happiest of hunting grounds for Davies, and yesterday she was sufficiently inhibited to use her driver only three times. Her one-under-par 72 left her adrift of the leaders. "It seems it is all I can ever shoot around here," she said.

Davies retired to the betting tent, pursuing a hobby that seems to have been in her blood since she was knee high to a jockey. It is unusual, though, to see women frequenting the secretive, smoky, almost sectarian world of the gambling den. "When I was a kid on holiday I remember going to things like Leicester races and having 50p on a horse," Davies said. "My whole family has always been interested."

That's not quite true. At one point yesterday her mother entered the betting shop and told Laura to leave. Laura carried on punting. "I like to take a risk, it's in my spirit," she said, "and I suppose gambling is an extension of that." As is clocking up 180mph in her Ferrari.

"I enjoy being in the bookies in Britain, but that's about it. Apart from a visit to the odd casino in America, I don't bet over there and I don't miss it." Davies, who has won well in excess of $1m this year, also does the National Lottery - a fiver a week.

Davies is four strokes behind her Solheim Cup partner, Alison Nicholas, the winner of the inaugural British Open in 1987. Nicholas, one of a posse of players on 68, five under par, is the smallest player on tour. The only handicap it brought her is that she could not see the flag on the second hole.

Two of the other more prolific winners this season are the Australian Karrie Webb and the Swede Annika Sorenstam, and both are well placed here at four under. Webb, who won the British Open 12 months ago in her first full year as a professional, hit almost every green in regulation despite being taken for a spin in Davies's Ferrari. "I don't think the police really need to know what speed we did," Webb said. She rolled in some outrageous putts, including a 30-footer for an eagle three at the 13th. Sorenstam, who has won the US Open two years running and has 10 top-10 finishes in 13 events in the US, went to the turn in 33 but failed to capitalise on the back nine.

Dottie Pepper,one of the in-form Americans playing here, got to five under par but had three bogeys in a row from the 14th. After finishing with a 71, she went back to bed. "I've had an infection and a virus for four weeks," Pepper said.

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