Golf: Nilsmark and Morley in the swing

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THE Women's European Tour, which was on its last, dainty legs last year, is on its high heels here. The Ford Classic, the first of 16 Order of Merit tournaments this season, has attracted record crowds (15,000 yesterday), a far healthier attendance than at the men's event taking place in Catalonia.

If the Tour is to prosper it needs all the players of the calibre of Catrin Nilsmark and Joanne Morley it can muster. Yesterday the Swede and the English rookie were the last pair out, Nilsmark leading the field at seven under followed by Morley at six. The Swede took some catching, although Laura Davies made progress with a three-under-par 71, the joint- best score of the day, and Trish Johnson was also up there.

The contrast between Nilsmark and Morley could barely be more marked. Nilsmark, 26, from Gothenburg, is blonde, 5ft 11in and has a dynamic swing born of gym work and years of tuition under the umbrella scheme operated by the Swedish Federation. She has a pilot's licence and rides a Harley Davidson. Two years ago it was her putt that sealed victory over the United States in the Solheim Cup.

Morley, 27 from Sale, is dark, short and has an equally reliable swing developed through the years of an outstanding amateur career. She gave up her job in Woolworth's at the Stretford end of Manchester three months ago to embark on a professional career. However, she knows she can return to her day job if and when necessary. She drives a Skoda. Two years ago she was one of the heroines in GB and Ireland's victory over the US in the Curtis Cup.

Nilsmark, who has never won on the Tour, was vulnerable on the greens over the early holes and she missed from 18 inches on the short second. At the third, after getting a squeegee man out to sweep surface water lying between her ball and the hole she came up two feet short and very nearly missed that. However, an eagle at the sixth, where she holed from a bunker and a birdie at the next settled her nerves. Nilsmark pulled clear of Morley and despite a bogey at the 17th she takes a three-shot lead into today's final round. Nilsmark scored a 73 and moved to eight under, followed by Johnson, Mardi Lunn and Annika Sorenstam, who are five under.

Terry 'tell Laura I love her' Coates, the chief executive of the Tour, singled out Davies as the saviour of women's professional golf in Europe and there is no doubt that the natural ability and striking power of the world No 1 gives any event a lift.

Davies made the perfect start with an eagle three at the first - two-iron, five-iron, 8ft putt - but had an ugly finish with a bogey five - two-iron, five-iron, chip, two putts. The five-iron was the wrong club and that dropped her back to four under for the tournament. She was more annoyed at that than having her pounds 600 stereo system stolen from her car parked outside her hotel.

A stream of April showers made the greens slow and susceptible to stud marks but what really frustrates Davies here is the straitlaced little Duchess course, treelined and as tight as a dowager's purse. She would much prefer the adjoining man- sized Duke's course over which she won this event in 1988.

Claustrophobia nullifies her driving and she used her driver just twice. Neither did it help that progress was slow. 'My style,' Davies said, 'is to hit it, find it and hit it again.'

Despite the fact that the Duchess is a shade over 6,000 yards, despite the fact she has a par of 74 and despite having six par fives, only 15 players out of 102 were below par after the second round.