With her assault on par at last week's Mary Kay Classic in Dallas, Jan Stephenson became the first woman to break 200 in a 54-hole tournament. An 18 -under-par total of 198 earned her headlines and an easy 11-stroke victory margin.
The record also drew attention to the fact that the women pros still play some three-round tournaments. More and more they've gone to the men's format of four rounds, or 72 holes. Yet 12 out of 40 events on the current Ladies Professional Golf Association circuit still opt for the shorter schedule, and one tournament, the United Virginia Bank Classic, has even switched from 72 to 54 holes.
From a player's standpoint, the advantage of playing a three-round tournament is that it's not as grinding and allowa an extra day for travel. For the sponsor, 54-holers involve less work in lining up volunteers. The shorter format also can be used to lure players looking to take some time off, particularly when the prize money is comparable to 72-hole events.
The trend, however, favors four-round tournaments, even though their traditional Thursday starts aren't great draws. Many sponsors like the extra day of revenue. "And the bottom line," says Claire Sheils of the LPGA, "is stature. The public sees the men play 72 holes, so they expect the women to do the same."