BARWON HEADS, Australia – English veteran Laura Davies used a new putting grip and took advantage of calm morning conditions to shoot an 8-under 65 and take a two-stroke lead in the Vic Open, the Ladies European Tour's season-opening tournament.
Five players were tied for second with 67s — Melissa Reid and Holly Clyburn of England, who are sharing a house with Davies this week, Sandra Gal of Germany, Nicole Broch of Denmark and Whitney Hillier of Australia.
Davies, winner of 84 tournaments worldwide, played her opening round on the easier Creek course at the Thirteenth Beach golf links, equaling the course record. The women's tournament is being held in conjunction with a men's Australian PGA tour event, teeing off in alternate groups.
The Beach Course, which is also being used for the first two rounds, will be the only one in play for the final 36 holes on the weekend. Men and women are playing for equal prize money — 500,000 Australian dollars ($381,000), for each tournament.
Australian David Branson had the first-round lead in the men's event, shooting 64 on the Creek course which is playing as a par-72 for the men and 73 for the women. Australian Brett Rankin and Michael Hendry of New Zealand were tied for second after 66s.
The 53-year-old Davies reverted to the left-hand-lower set-up on the putter.
"I was leaving every putt short and getting wristy, so that has really helped," Davies said. "I had 29 putts and my average last year would have been in the mid-30s, which is ridiculous because some of these youngsters are 25, 26 putts a round. So if I want to compete, I have to putt better and this is a really good start."
Davies has overcome a left leg problem that affected her play during a winless 2016 season.
"I'm basically starting again because last year was the worst year of my career by quite some way," Davies said. "I'm going to say I missed 14 cuts, but it could've been more. And that's horrendous for a touring pro."
South Korean amateur Choi Hye-jin, Australian Katherine Kirk and American Angel Yin were among those on 68, while tournament favorite and Australian Olympian Minjee Lee shot 74 and will need a good round Friday to make the cut.