Originally created 03/31/97

King makes an unexpected splash



RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Betsy King, clad in a white robe with "Nabisco Dinah Shore 1997 Champion" emblazoned across the back, stripped off her soggy golf shoes and socks and shook her still-dripping hair.

She hadn't really expected to be the one to take the traditional winner's dip into the lake surrounding the 18th green at Mission Hills Country Club.

"I thought I wasn't going to win, so I was just sort of watching Kris (Tschetter) and Amy (Fruhwirth), trying to finish second," King said Sunday after overtaking the fading Kelly Robbins to win the Dinah Shore for the third time.

"Kelly was hitting it well, had made some birdies, and I thought she was going to win. Suddenly, she just wasn't making the shots."

King, also the champion in 1987 and 1990, overcome a three-shot deficit over the last eight holes.

King, who entered the LPGA Hall of Fame two years ago and almost simultaneously went into a tailspin, shot a closing 1-under-par 71 to finish 12-under for the tournament, the tour's first major championship of the year.

She finished two shots ahead of Tschetter, who came almost all the way back from a second-round 76. Tschetter shot a 70 Sunday to also pass the struggling Robbins.

"I had a chance," said Tschetter, who played in the threesome in front of King, Robbins and Fruhwirth. "I knew at one point that Kelly was 13-under, then I knew they were having some trouble and I had a chance.

"Betsy played great; I played with her the first two days and she was hitting the ball really well. My shooting a 76 the second day, you just can't do that and win a golf tournament. ... But you can hope."

Robbins, 13-under and holding a three-shot lead with eight holes to go, saw her game disintegrate into a nightmare of hazards - a tree, a lake and bunkers - down the stretch.

Robbins, who shared the lead with King heading into the final round, finished with a 74 that included a 40 on the back nine at Mission Hills Country Club.

After hitting her tee shot into the water on No. 18, Robbins made an 18-footer from the fringe for par that gave her a share of third place, with Fruhwirth at 9-under. Fruhwirth shot 72.

"She (Robbins) was playing well and I expected her to hang on," said King, a close friends of Robbins. "But you can make a couple of bogeys and realize you're not invincible.

"Kelly's been there (on the leaderboard) from start to finish the last two weeks, and it takes a toll on you after awhile. I know this took a toll on me; I'm looking forward to taking some time off."

Even King, who hadn't had a bogey in two days, struggled a bit during the final round. She went to 12-under with a birdie on No. 5, then bogeyed No. 8, her first bogey in 53 holes. She lost another shot to par on No. 10, but birdied No. 11 and No. 14 to go back to 12-under.

She made one more bogey, on the 15th, but came back with a birdie on No. 16, then parred the final two holes. King nailed down her third Dinah Shore championship with a 2-foot par putt on the last hole.

Robbins, in front or tied at the top for most of the final three days, was steady for the first 11 holes of the final round. Then her problems began - and continued to grow.

Robbins, who already had won once this year and was the runnerup to Laura Davies in a playoff last weekend at Phoenix, bogeyed Nos. 12 and 13 to drop to 11-under, one shot behind King. On No. 15, Robbins' drive struck a tree and dropped, she then hit over the green and into the sand behind the green before pitching up and three-putting from 15 feet for a double bogey.

After finishing her round, King rather reluctantly waded into the murky water around No. 18.

"That wasn't a tradition when I won here before," she said. "But since that means you won here now, I'm certainly willing to do it."

King, 41, met the Hall of Fame entry requirement of 30 career victories when she won an event in June 1995. She went the rest of that year without another win, then struggled in 1996, with a fifth place her best finish of the year.

The Dinah Shore title was her sixth in a major. She's won the U.S. Open twice and the LPGA Championship once.

Already the top money-winner in LPGA history, the $135,000 winner's prize boosted her career earnings to $5.7 million.