Kerr wins first LPGA Tour title

Sunday, April 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LINCOLN, Calif. (AP) _ Cristie Kerr is exactly where she thought she would be after skipping college to turn pro in 1996.

It took her a lot longer than she expected, and was more than a bit unsightly Sunday, but that only made it more satisfying as the former junior star celebrated her first LPGA Tour victory.

``I knew this was going to happen eventually,'' Kerr said after holding off South Korea's Hee-Won Han in the Longs Drugs Challenge.

``It feels great, I worked really hard to get this. It was something my parents, and my sister and I dreamed about for a long, long time.''

Kerr, in her sixth full season on the tour at age 24, squandered a five-stroke lead before taking advantage of Han's final-hole bogey for a one-stroke victory.

Kerr finished with three straight pars for a 3-over-par 75 _ the highest closing round by a winner this season. After holing a short par putt on No. 18, she pumped her fist, then lowered her head and cried tears of joy.

Kerr has come along way _ on and off the course _ since joining the tour as a brash teen-ager with high expectations. She struggled with a weight problem in high school and early in her pro career, but is now one of tour's fittest players after losing 50 pounds in the last 3 1/2 years.

Kerr finished with an 8-under 280 total on the demanding Twelve Bridges course. She earned $135,000 to move into second place on the money list with $295,606. Annika Sorenstam, who skipped the tournament for a first time, tops the list with $563,330.

She needed an assist from Han, who shot a 70 and made a crucial mistake at 18, hooking her drive into the glove compartment of a golf cart.

Han, who birdied the 16th, got a free drop near the cart path following her errant drive on No. 18. Hitting out of walnut chips with a 4-iron, she put her second shot in the rough. She barely reached the green with a pitching wedge from the rough, then two-putted for bogey.

``I was a little nervous, but I did not get upset,'' said Hon, last year's rookie of the year who had never finished better than a tie for 10th. ``I tried to hit my drive farther and I pulled it left. I never expected to win because Cristie was at 10 under''

Kerr was 10 under and seemingly cruising until she hit into the hazard at the par-3 15th. After taking a penalty stroke, she chipped onto the green, then two-putted for a double-bogey.

``I had shrugged mistakes off earlier in the week, so I just had to get through this,'' Kerr said. ``I had to stay mentally tough.''

Kerr, who shared the lead after the first round, dropped two strokes on the front nine with bogeys on Nos. 5-7. She birdied No. 11 to reach 10 under.

Heather Bowie (71) and 46-year-old Australian Jane Crafter (72) tied for third, two strokes back. South Koreans Mi Hyun Kim (73) and Grace Park (65) tied for fifth, four strokes back.

Park's 65 was the best round of the tournament.

``Today I didn't have any bad holes,'' Park said. ``Pin placements were more fair and there was less wind.''