Lauer Tames Monster Named Mesa Verde : She Shoots an 11-Under-Par 277 to Win LPGA Event by Five Strokes

Times Staff Writer

The monster known as Mesa Verde Country Club golf course finally was brought to its knees Sunday afternoon, first stunned and then conquered in a manner previously thought unimaginable.

After five years of steadfastly refusing to yield par, the Costa Mesa course was tamed--reduced to a whimper, really--by a quiet challenger who began the $330,000 Uniden LPGA Invitational four days earlier as just another face in the crowd.

Such a feat had figured to require a special weapon--maybe the driver of Nancy Lopez or the putter of Patty Sheehan. Both were in use Sunday, and both fared well, but neither was capable of beating Mesa Verde into submission.

That achievement fell into the unlikely hands of Bonnie Lauer, hands that were barely able to grip a golf club two years ago. Lauer, whose 10-year professional career has featured more wrist surgeries (two) than prior tournament victories (one), not only broke par at Mesa Verde--she obliterated it.

By shooting her second consecutive round of 68, Lauer walked off the course a most surprising winner at 277 for four days--an astonishing 11 strokes under par.

That, of course, is a number that comes with asterisk attached. Before 1985, when the demanding 10th hole was switched from a four-stroke hole to five strokes, par for the course was 284. After the change, it became 288.

But even the old mark was no match for Lauer this week. Her card of 70-71-68-68 still would have bettered the old par by seven strokes.

Runner-up Alice Miller, too, would have beaten the old standard. Miller shot a final round of 69, giving her a tournament total of 282.

And yet Miller finished five strokes out of first, which helps provide the proper perspective to Lauer's accomplishment.

"If you told me early in the week to take a six-under for the tournament," Miller said, "I'd go right to the clubhouse and start drinking champagne."

They don't pop corks for second place, however, and it was Lauer who was left holding the bottle at tournament's end.

Miller's state of mind, though, was more one of disbelief than dismay.

"I haven't seen anybody beat this course four days in a row," she said. "Everybody, sooner or later, has one bad day.

"But Bonnie beat the course. She beat the field and she beat the course."

Eleven strokes under par. All of the tour's heaviest hitters were here and not one of them could come close to that number.

Not Lopez, the defending Mesa Verde champion, who shot a 69 for the day, 285 for the tournament, and wound up in third place, eight strokes off the pace.

Not Sheehan, the current LPGA money leader, who shot an even-par 72, finished the tournament at two-under (286) and placed fourth, nine strokes back.

Not Donna White, who equalled the course record with a round of 66. That was only good enough for 287 overall and a final fifth-place standing at 10 back.

After opening a four-stroke lead over the field after three rounds, Lauer spent most of Sunday by herself. Miller mounted a minor challenge down the back-nine, birdieing the 13th, 14th and 15th holes to pull to within three strokes, but the challenge ended for good on the 17th hole.

Miller was looking at another potential birdie on 17 after a five-iron approach left her 15 feet from the pin. Lauer, meanwhile, appeared in trouble--first hitting her drive into the left rough and then dunking a five-wood into the bunker.

Lauer hit out, but left the ball in a bad lie. To make par, she had to sink a four-foot downhill putt.

"If she (Miller) makes her putt and I miss my little four-footer downhill, it's only a one-stroke difference," Lauer said. "Alice didn't have an easy putt, but I thought she was going to make it. She was on a roll."

Unfortunately for Miller, her putt rolled too much--past the hole. She had to settle for par.

Lauer then knocked in her putt for another par and her lead remained at three as she approached the final hole.

"That's when I first started breathing easily all day," Lauer said. "I knew then that if I could get to the 18th green without falling in the lake that I'd be all right."

Miller knew the tournament was over then, too.

"The 17th hole was my only chance for a turning point," Miller said. "It was a small ray of hope, nothing to place bets on.

"When I missed that birdie putt, I just wanted to get it over with."

Lauer was moments away from her second LPGA title and her biggest payday--$49,500. She concluded her round in fitting fashion--sinking a five-foot putt for birdie.

And an eight-year drought was over.

The low points during that stretch must have seemed a million miles away for Lauer as she sat in the interview tent. The unfulfilled promise of the 1976 LPGA Rookie of the Year. The pinched nerves in her wrists that left both hands numb and threatened her career before she underwent surgery in 1983.

"This is the best week of golf I've ever had, without a doubt," Lauer said. "To score this well on this course, I had to get every good break possible and hit well from tee to green. This week was a combination of all those good things."

Sunday, they all added up to the downfall of Mesa Verde.

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