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Hjorth Takes Safeco Classic

With 14 of the top 18 money-winners bypassing this year's Safeco Classic, chances seemed good to produce a first-time LPGA Tour winner.

And that's exactly what happened, as second-year pro Maria Hjorth shot an 8-under 64 Sunday, including a tournament record-tying 30 on the front nine, and won the $650,000 tournament.

The 25-year-old Swede, whose best previous tour finish was a tie for fifth, didn't have a bogey over the final 26 holes and beat Scotland's Catriona Matthew by two strokes.

"Now I have to put down some new goals," said Hjorth, the latest LPGA winner from Sweden. "I guess I'll have to go out and win another tournament."

Matthew, in her fifth year on the tour, was also looking for her first victory, but her closing 69 wasn't enough to catch Hjorth. Matthew's best previous finish was a tie for second at last year's Edina Realty Classic.

Tina Barrett, third-round leader Rachel Hetherington and defending champion Anika Sorenstam all finished four strokes behind the leader. Hetherington had a closing 72, while Sorenstam had a 68 and Barrett a 67.

Hjorth's 72-hole total of 17-under 271 on the 6,198-yard Meridian Valley Country Club course south of Seattle earned her $97,500 and was just one shot off the tournament record set by Patty Sheehan in 1990.

Hjorth tied for fifth at last year's Friendly's Classic and again in February at the Valley of the Stars Championship. She started Sunday's round four shots behind Hetherington.

Hjorth had six birdies, including five straight on Nos. 3-7, for her 30, which tied the tournament record held by Judy Dickinson in 1986 and Hollis Stacy in 1992.

"That was a great stretch," Hjorth said. "I told myself I have to keep playing this way and not get too defensive."

She didn't.

In fact, Hjorth said she didn't even look at the leaderboard until she was on the 16th hole and one stroke ahead of Matthew.

"Some people like to look at the leaderboard," Hjorth said. "I wanted to stay within myself."

Matthew had led briefly a few holes earlier after her fifth birdie of the day at No. 11 put her 17 under, while Hjorth, two groups ahead, was 15 under.

But Matthew bogeyed two par-3s on the back 9 Nos. 12 and 15. Matthew, who had two birdies and two pars on the two par-3 holes through the first three rounds, missed 8-footers on both Sunday.

"I really played pretty well," said Matthew, who played all four rounds in the 60s. "I'm disappointed. I had my chances but a couple of bad holes cost me. Obviously, I know I can win out here. If I keep shooting four rounds in the 60s I'll do it some time."

Hjorth took advantage of Matthew's mistakes with two birdies on the back nine.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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