Originally created 03/15/04

Stupples wins first title



TUCSON, Ariz. -- Karen Stupples played like a winner. At the end of the LPGA Tour season opener, the tag applied.

The 30-year-old Englishwoman deflected the pressure back onto her pursuers Sunday, stretching a one-shot lead with six holes left into a five-shot victory over Grace Park and Jung Yeon Lee in the Welch's/Fry's Championship.

On the way to her first tour title, she shot the best 72-hole score in LPGA Tour history, closing with a 7-under 63 to finish the event at 22-under 258.

"It's unbelievable," said Stupples, who had never finished higher than a tie for third in five previous years on tour. "I had no idea all of that was going to happen."

Wendy Doolan set the previous record (259) last year, the first time for the tournament was played on the 6,176-yard Dell Urich layout. Annika Sorenstam's 261 in 2001 at Moon Valley in Phoenix is the tour's best for a par-72 course.

Stupples eagled the 13th hole to pull away from her nearest rivals.

Park, sixth, third and fourth in Tucson the last three years, turned in a 67, but bogeyed the last hole to drop into a tie with Lee (66) at 263.

"I think this will push me even harder to want to win and to get there," said Park, a four-time winner. "You know, my game is getting closer to where I'd like it to be, and I'll just keep working."

Stacy Prammanasudh finished seven shots back after a 67, and Laura Davies, who began the round tied with Park one shot behind Stupples, carded a 71 to land in a tie with Shi Hyun Ahn (63) and Aree Song (67) at 267.

Stupples' 30-foot eagle putt on No. 13 got her to 21 under - good for a three-stroke lead - and made the finish a cakewalk.

After a birdie at No. 16, she approached the 18th green fighting back tears, a battle she lost after holing an 8-foot putt to save par and match her best 18-hole score, set Thursday in the first round.

"I really struggled emotionally to keep it all under control," Stupples said. "My caddie was telling me, 'Keep it under control.' But every time I gave myself a second to think about what was happening, it just overwhelmed me every time."

When the ball dropped, Stupples hugged her caddie, Park, Davies and their caddies and wiped tears from her eyes as the reality of a first title and a $120,000 paycheck sank in.

She was second by four shots to Sorenstam in the ANZ Ladies Masters on Feb. 29 - her best finish in an international event - and used the experience to turn back the challenge of more seasoned players.

Stupples, who led the last three rounds, had only three bogeys in the tournament, going back-to-back with them on the last hole of the third round and the first of the fourth.

But she soon dialed in, birdieing Nos. 2 and 3 to open a one-shot lead on Park.

Park, a former Arizona State star, got a share of the lead at 16 under with a birdie the fifth hole, and kept pace when both birdied the sixth and parred the seventh.

But on No. 8, Stupples' approach shot landed a foot in front of the pin, hopped backward and stopped 10 inches behind for a tap-in birdie.

Park never caught up, and the issue was all but settled when she parred No. 12 while Stupples ran in her only eagle of the tournament.

"She eagled it and I parred it, which was disappointing to me," Park said. "But even after that I still felt like I had some chance as long as I made a couple of birdies to push her. I thought I'd be able to do that, but I couldn't and she kept making pars and made a great birdie on 16, and game over."

Davies played the first 12 holes without making a birdie. By the time she did, she was seven shots back and depending on the leaders to stumble.