The vindictive rough and treacherous greens of the Bethesda Country Club refused to yield to large reputations yesterday. Those who dared to venture from the fairways very far or very often during the opening round of the LPGA Championship weren't heard from again, and a leader board that was supposed to be reserved for the game's most prominent names became the domain of the lesser-known players who adapted most quickly to the no-frills approach necessary to survive.

Simple styles were the most effective as only 10 of 144 players shot below par. Chris Johnson used a five-birdie, one-bogey round to produce a 4-under 67 and a two-shot lead over a group of five. Then she attributed her success partially to the newly discovered strategy of aiming for the hole when she putted.

Rosie Jones -- who joined Colleen Walker, Amy Benz, Hiromi Kobayashi and Sarah McGuire at 69 -- was even more straightforward, almost flawless from tee to fairway to green en route to 12 straight pars. McGuire, the most unlikely of the leaders, did a bit more scrambling but matched that figure with a performance predicated largely upon some advice she received at the driving range late Wednesday.

But most players were swallowed by Bethesda's testing 6,245 yards. "I think the golf course is playing as tough as any golf course I've ever played," said Beth Daniel, who won the Greater Washington Open here last year and shot a 71 yesterday. "The rough is thick and the trees {lining the fairway} are full, so if you go out, you have no shot to the green except a miracle shot."

Daniel was one of several players to complain about bumpy greens on a number of holes. According to course manager Dean Graves, those greens -- on Nos. 11, 13 and 15 -- were built in the 1920s and are most susceptible to being worn down by persistent rains and constant use. So an already demanding course was even less forgiving.

"On about four holes, you're putting on roots and dirt," Daniel said. "I just think it's an extremely tough course. . . . My feeling is that if you shoot even par on this golf course, you've shot a really good round of golf."

The tournament favorites fell short of that distinction. Three-time LPGA champion Nancy Lopez self-destructed amid a succession of putting failures -- including a miss from inside two feet at No. 14, which led to a double bogey -- and shot 78. Playing partner Patty Sheehan, the tour's hottest player and leading money winner, was noticeably sluggish and finished with 75.

"I'm definitely disappointed," said Lopez, who won last year's championship at Kings Island, Ohio. "I want to scream and yell but I'll wait until I get away from here."

Sheehan might have done the same, except that she's too drained to make the effort. The burden of three majors within a five-week span seems to have worn on her more than anyone. She came here after losing the U.S. Open two weeks ago to Betsy King on the 36-hole final day, then dropping a tournament in Youngstown, Ohio, last week when Daniel beat her in a playoff.

"I just feel worn out," said Sheehan, who has finished first or second her last six tournaments. King, trying to win her third major this year, had a 72 after reaching 3 under at one point early in her round.

"It's not too bad," said King, who trailed Sheehan by 11 strokes at the Open on Sunday. "The way I started, I probably should be in better shape, but I haven't put myself out of contention yet . . . Of course, I don't think I'll ever believe I'm out of contention any more."

Johnson said she didn't notice the difficulties the course presented, so homed in was she upon her handiwork. She is playing a fifth straight tournament and normally plays no more than three weeks consecutively, but even the weariness was forgotten. "I was kind of zone-ish out there," she said.

Johnson, a 10-year pro with five victories, has added to her game recently by subtraction. After struggling the past two years with personal problems that included a divorce, she has regrouped and displayed some of the best golf of her career.

She has stopped consulting regularly with her longtime coach, deciding to make her own adjustments on the course instead of gathering information to relay to someone else after she plays. She began tinkering with her putting before winning the Atlantic City Classic last month, and she concluded she was aiming the ball to the left of the hole and pushing it to the right.

"I found it's much easier to putt if you just aim directly at the hole," Johnson said. "My ball striking has been very consistent. Now it's time to work on putting."

She assured that her putts wouldn't be too difficult yesterday because she found herself in the heavy rough only once despite missing five fairways. Johnson scurried to save pars at Nos. 11 and 18, and four birdies on the front nine (she began at No. 10) secured her the lead.

Jones had the day's steadiest performance. She missed only two fairways and one green in regulation, and she rarely was pressed for pars in a two-birdie, no-bogey round. "I think it's a good round," she said. "It could've been better. There were some birdie putts I might've made. I was really thinking I could get to 5 {under}, but then I could never get it to 3 {under}, so it was kind of impossible."

Jones hasn't won on the tour in two years, having struggled in 1989 with back problems and wavering confidence. A superb beginning to this year gave way to a brief slump; she changed coaches and clubs, and last week tied for sixth.

As one of the tour's shorter hitters, she also disputed the notion that Bethesda rewards power over accuracy. "This course is made for me all up and down," Jones said. "The last two weeks, I've been starting to swing better and better. These things come and go in waves, so hopefully I'm coming into a streak of good play."

McGuire, meanwhile, never has finished higher than fifth and never earned more than $16,000 during a year. She has missed the cut at nine of the 15 events she has played this year, and she came here 132nd on the 193-player money list. But tour veteran Marlene Hagge told her Wednesday her ball was too far forward in her stance, and the adjustment she made yesterday paid off.

The rounds of Walker, Benz and Kobayashi were perhaps the day's greatest achievements, since they played late in the day, when the fairways were drying out under the glaring sun and the greens were chewed up by spike marks from players' shoes.

"It's tricky out there," Walker said. "The balls were bouncing on the greens, and they starting rolling a little more on the fairways.

"You've got to be patient. You can't be too aggressive in some places . . . I'm just glad I'll play in the morning {today}. Hopefully, it will be a little easier."