Originally created 05/01/00

Gustafson wins first LPGA event



STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. -- Sophie Gustafson made a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to clinch her first victory on the LPGA Tour, a one-shot triumph Sunday over Kelly Robbins and Amy Fruhwirth at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship.

Karrie Webb, who had won four of her five events this year and finished second in the other, began the day three shots off the lead and couldn't make up the deficit -- even though the three players in front of her to start the round were a combined 10 over on the front nine in near-perfect scoring conditions at Eagle's Landing Country Club.

Webb finished with a 1-under-par 71 for the final round but was two shots behind Gustafson's 10-under 206 total. Gustafson rallied for a 72 Sunday after appearing on the verge of a major collapse, standing at four over through seven holes.

"That showed how much courage she has," said Webb, who tied for fourth. "She clawed her way back into the tournament."

Gustafson, a native of Sweden who suffers from a severe speech impediment, rebounded from a double bogey at No. 7 to put together a string of five birdies in six holes beginning at No. 9. But, in a display that epitomized the erratic play of all the contenders, she nearly gave away the tournament with bogeys at 15 and 16.

Gustafson made a testy 3-footer to save par at 17 before going to the final hole knowing a birdie would clinch her first LPGA victory. Her second shot sailed into the bunker alongside the green, but she escaped the sand with a brilliant shot that rolled just left of the flag and spun to a halt four feet away.

With her auburn hair glimmering in the sunlight, Gustafson calmly made the putt and claimed the $135,000 winner's check in the tournament she led after all three days.

"It's nice that I was able to come back and finish strong," said Gustafson, struggling to get the words out.

At a ceremony on the 18th green, tour host Nancy Lopez presented Gustafson with the crystal trophy and spoke on behalf of the winner to thousands of fans clustered in front of the clubhouse.

"Her English is not quite as good as she'd like it to be," Lopez said. "I'm going to talk for her and tell you some of the things she wants to say you."

Lopez joked that Gustafson "must have stopped breathing" as she closed in on her first victory in the United States. Gustafson finally took the microphone and, in halting, dramatic fashion, told the crowd, "Thank you." Then, she handed the microphone back to the host and whispered in her ear.

"She also wants to thank her caddy, Chuck (Hoersch), for doing such a great job," Lopez said.

Despite a sunny day with temperatures in the upper-70s and virtually no wind, a star-studded field with 46 of the tour's top 50 money-winners took turns making one bad shot after another.

Gustafson sliced her tee shot out of bounds at 3, then her playing partner, Laura Davies, did the same at the par-3 4th. Michelle McGann, who began the day two shots off the lead, had a quadruple-bogey at 8, putting her tee shot into the woods and whiffing twice after her second shot landed on a steep bank, disappearing in the high grass.

Robbins, six shots behind Gustafson at the beginning of the round, was tied for the lead going to the par-5 hole, the easiest on the course. But she hooked her tee shot into the water and had to scramble for a par.

Even though her 5-under 67 was the best score among the leaders, her 207 total wasn't good enough to hold off Gustafson.

Fruhwirth was leading at the turn but her tee shot at 10 plopped into the same pond that would later ruin Robbins' day. The result was a double-bogey, too much to overcome even though she birdied the final two holes for a 70 in the round and a 207 overall.

In her worst finish of the year, Webb was in three-way tie with Sherri Steinhauer and Lorie Kane.

"I thought I needed a 66 to win and I was pressing too early," said Webb, who became so frustrated at one point that she threw her ball in a creek. "It learned a good lesson today: don't set a score, just play the course."