Helped by a friendly kick from a

greenside bank, Sherri Steinhauer won the Women's British Open for the second year in a row on Sunday.


The 36-year-old American appeared headed for a playoff with Sweden's Annika Sorenstam when she pitched her third shot from 115

yards towards the 18th green.


The ball landed on a bank at the top of a bunker at the front right of the green, then went speeding towards the flag. It ended 6

feet from the hole and Steinhauer punched the air in celebration

after holing the birdie putt.


Steinhauer, who won last year on her first outing at Royal Lytham, triumphed again on her first appearance at Woburn after that putt gave her a level par 73 for the final round and a 9-under total of 283.


She became the first player since Debbie Massey in 1980-81 to win the title two years in a row and next year returns as two-time

defending champion to play Royal Birkdale, also for the first time.


"This was one of the most difficult days of the tour, and to come out winning is just an incredible feeling," said the American, who feared she might suffer a repeat of last week's

tournament at Boston, where she led the field going into the final round only to lose.


"Last week at Boston I had a two-shot lead, I double bogeyed the second and I didn't win. This week I had a one-shot lead and I double bogeyed the first hole and it didn't bring back a lot of good memories."


While Steinhauer's final-hole birdie had a huge slice of good fortune, her double bogey 6 was a catalogue of errors.


She opted to take her driver from the tee and hit too far to the right into the light rough. With a tree directly in front of her, she had to shoot the ball down to avoid a low branch, and the

result was her second shot rolled through the back of the green and down a steep bank.


Steinhauer chipped 25 feet past the hole, her first putt was woefully short and she three-putted.


"It really did shake me and I said to my caddie, `We will have to dig deep here.' I'm really pleased how I handled it."


She came back with birdies at the fourth and sixth and, despite another at 14, had two bogey 5s to stay level with Sorenstam going

to the final hole.


"On my way down the fairway, I thought, `This is going to be like last year. I'm going to have to birdie the last to win the British Open.' I needed to," Steinhauer said.


"Yesterday I couldn't do much wrong, but today when I did make a mistake I got punished for it a lot. Until the last hole. That

was a good break right there."


The result meant that Sorenstam wound up runnerup for the third time after her 72 gave her a total of 284.


"Second is not a bad finish," said the Swede, the 1995 U.S. Open titlist who was British Open runnerup in '94 and '95. "I get some (ranking) points and some dollars. But it was as if there was a lid on the hole today."


(Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)