Gustafson Squanders Lead but Wins

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Sophie Gustafson got back to basics after losing nearly all of her nine-stroke lead in the final round of the Women's British Open.

``I thought, 'Oh my God, what am I doing?''' Gustafson said. ``I'm not too sure how I got it back. I just tried to hit fairways and greens, and avoid making any bogeys.''

The 26-year-old Swede finished with a 5-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday for a 2-over-par 75 and a two-stroke margin over four players on the Royal Birkdale.

``This is my biggest thrill in golf, easily, but it is also a big relief,'' Gustafson said. ``It was a bit tougher than I expected it to be, but it was very nice to have come through to win.''

Gustafson, second in the event two years ago, had a 10-under 282 total and earned $178,800 for her second victory of the year.

American Meg Mallon, who won the du Maurier Classic a week ago in Canada for her third major title, closed with a 70 to tie for second with England's Kirsty Taylor (67), American Becky Iverson (69) and Sweden's Liselotte Neumann (69).

American Laura Philo (68) was another stroke back, and Australian star Karrie Webb, penalized two shots Saturday for a rules infraction, shot a 71 to finish seventh at 6-under 286.

Gustafson, up by seven strokes after rounds of 70, 66 and 71, stretched her lead to nine on the first hole after hitting a 4-iron approach within 2 feet. But she gave the two strokes right back with a double bogey on No. 2.

Mallon bogeyed No. 2, but birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6. Gustafson bogeyed Nos. 7, 8 and 9 to reduce her advantage to two shots.

A birdie on No. 15 and six pars seemed to put her back in control, but she found a greenside bunker on the par-5 17th, just barely escaped from it onto the fringe, chipped poorly to 20 feet and two-putted for another bogey.

Then, two 3-woods put Gustafson into the bunker on No. 18, but she managed to recover.

``I decided to go for the green at the last because the shot is easier than laying up,'' said Gustafson, who also won the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in April near Atlanta.

Mallon missed a 15-foot eagle attempt on No. 18.

``After being nine behind, to come within two shots and have a chance, I'm a little disappointed I couldn't close the door,'' Mallon said. ``You have to give Sophie a lot of credit. Her game was going south a little bit, but she never seemed to lose her cool.''

Neumann had missed the halfway cut at six of her last seven events in the United States.

``It has been such a struggle this year,'' she said. ``I have just been working so hard and it hasn't paid off. It was nice to get four solid rounds, and better and better each day.''