Despite no on-site parking and bleachers not always full, tournament executive director Hal Seward and LPGA Commissioner Bill Blue said they were pleased with the LPGA Championship's debut at Bethesda Country Club.

"I think {the crowds} are good," said Seward, who estimated 25,000 people watched yesterday. Saturday, the estimate was 20,000, Friday 15,000, and Thursday's opening round at between 8,000 and 10,000. "I've tried to be conservative {with the estimates}. We've had a lot of people on the golf course."

"It's exceeded our expectations," said Blue. "I don't think anyone expected to have this level of prestige and execution in the first year. The course has played as tough as our best major should play."

Free shuttle buses have delivered almost all the crowd from the nearby Marriott Suites Hotel on Democracy Boulevard, and from the Bethesda Metro station.

"I think people have had a positive experience with the shuttle buses," Seward said. "People have been cooperative and willing to park and take the shuttle buses. We've had maybe a handful of complaints. People saying, 'Hey, I wish I didn't have to ride in a bus.' "

Seward pointed out that the McDonald's Championship in Wilmington, Del., one of the most popular stops on the LPGA Tour, also shuttles in its gallery. He said the bleachers surrounding some greens were not always full this week because many in the galleries walked the course following players rather than staying in one place. "Many people in D.C. have not seen Nancy Lopez play," he said. "They wanted to see them play rather than camp at one hole."

Blue said he watched Saturday's telecast and the view from a blimp "showed that the last six fairways -- where the leaders were -- were almost fully lined."

"This is the first year {for the LPGA Championship here} and the public didn't know a lot about this facility," Seward said. "People are skeptical. It's a prove-it-to-me attitude. The response has been, 'Boy, this is first class, we like it,' " Seward said.

Dave King, longtime Bethesda Country Club member and volunteer at the event, felt the crowds each day were double those at last year's Greater Washington Open here.

Lopez Falls Short

Lopez made her fourth birdie on the 12th hole to pull within six of the lead but then bogeyed 15 and 16 and finished with her third straight 70 for 288. She tied for 14th and won $13,500.

Lopez, drawing some of the biggest ovations of the tournament, dug herself a deep hole with an opening-round 78.

The three-time winner of this event played gallantly from then on, reducing her Thursday 7 over par to 2 over for the tournament with a birdie on 12, but she had little hope of catching red-hot Beth Daniel.

"I had some good opportunities," Lopez said. "But I'm mad about the two bogeys."

Lopez ran into problems on 15 and 16, where she missed five-foot putts. She had a chance for an eight-foot birdie on the final hole but the putt slid by and she made par. Lopez's problems with her favorite mallethead putter began on opening day, when she failed to make a birdie.

"If you miss short putts, you lose your momentum and start pressing a little," said Lopez, who said she will take a two-week vacation at her Albany, Ga., home after an appearance Tuesday in Los Angeles. "I need" the vacation, she said. "We'll be back next year."

Early Rising for Barrett

Baltimore pro Tina Barrett had a 4:30 a.m. wake-up for a 7 a.m. tee time and was 5 over par after her first four holes. She righted herself and played her last 14 holes even par and finished at 76 for 302. She earned $1,200.

Barrett, who won the 1988 Maryland Women's Amateur at Chevy Chase Club and then won last year's Ocean State Open in her rookie year on the LPGA Tour, struggled with a third-round 79 ("a bad day") and appeared headed for another disaster yesterday after a front-nine 40.

"I was quitting golf," deadpanned Barrett. But she rebounded with birdies on 9, 12 and 16, shot 36 on the back nine and now is off to play in next week's Boston Five Classic.