Originally created 06/05/06

Rookie Seon-Hwa Lee wins ShopRite LPGA Classic



GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. - South Korean rookie Seon-Hwa Lee won her first LPGA Tour title, closing with an 8-under 63 on Sunday to surge past Annika Sorenstam and several other contenders for a three-stroke victory in the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The 20-year-old Lee, second three times this year, birdied her last two holes to finish with the lowest round of the tournament and a 16-under 197 total. Sorenstam (67), Jeong Jang (64) and Sherri Steinhauer (66) tied for second.

"This means a lot to me, because this is my first win on the LPGA Tour," Lee said, after being showered with champagne and beer on the 18th green. "I'm very happy."

A day that started with another 20-year-old rookie - Ai Miyazato of Japan - atop the leaderboard ended with Lee in the spotlight, having survived a final-round scramble in which several players had or shared the lead.

"She played brilliant," playing partner Patricia Meunier-Lebouc said. "She was very relaxed, very cool and calm."

Starting two strokes off the lead at 8 under, she picked up two strokes on the front nine, then rallied with four consecutive birdies to start the back nine.

Ignoring the leaderboards, she birdied the 114-yard par-3 17th and was walking up the fairway on No. 18 when her caddie told her she was in the lead. Then she sank a 5-footer for birdie to clinch the $225,000 top prize.

Lee's best showing until Sunday had been a playoff loss to Meena Lee in the Fields Open in Hawaii in February.

Defending champion Sorenstam, who has won only once this year, saw her fortunes fade with more of the uneven play that has plagued her in recent months.

Coming into the final round one stroke back of Miyazato, she bogeyed two of her first three holes.

She appeared ready to rally after sinking a 10-foot putt for birdie at No. 10, which put her at 11 under. But she bogeyed the next hole and played even par down the stretch before hitting a 40-foot putt for eagle at No. 18.

It was a rousing finish, mirroring last year's Classic, when she clinched a four-shot victory over Juli Inkster with a 38-foot eagle putt on the same hole.

But it wasn't enough.

"I made a few mistakes out there early on, which kind of set me back and was tough to catch up," said Sorenstam. "But 16 under is a great score for three days. When they play well, there's not much you can do."

But she was encouraged by her play in the event, and said she feels confident heading into next week's McDonald's LPGA Championship.

"Well, things are starting to turn around. I made a few putts and I drove it really well. I think I missed a few early on, but other than that it was just down the middle," she said.

Sophie Gustafson, who made three birdies and an eagle in her first nine holes Sunday, was on pace to challenge Lee, coming into the final hole at 13 under. But she lipped the cup on an 8-foot putt for birdie and then missed the two-foot comeback putt for par, losing a stroke she could ill afford.

The 20-year-old Miyazato struggled all day with her putter and shot 3-over par 74, finishing nine shots off the lead.