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Steinhauer Defends British

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 dollarsBut it was as if there was a lid on the hole today."

One stroke further behind at 285 came another American, Cindy Flom, who finished with a 71, Australia's Fiona Pike, a U.S. Tour rookie who had a 74, and England's Helen Dobson, who carded a 70.

Flom, who had missed the cut on her two previous British Opens, was playing with a set of borrowed clubs after her own were stolen from a rental car at a hotel parking lot soon after she arrived in England. She had a set of demo irons, some woods from the club shop, a wedge borrowed from countrywoman Nancy Scranton, and a 3-wood which had a dent in it.

"It was an interesting week after my clubs were stolen," she said. "I had two wedges which I'd used for 10 years. I was just devastated and I didn't know whether to fly back to the U.S. and withdraw from the tournament."

Instead she stayed and collected $50,000 for a share of third place.

Emilee Klein, an American who won the British Open three years ago, shared sixth place after a 71 gave her a four-round total of 286.

Australian star Karrie Webb, winner of six titles on the U.S. Tour this year and a two-time winner of this tournament, never got close to contention here and finished with a 74 to finish at 293 for a share of 38th place.

It was only the second time this season the Australian had finished outside the top 10 in a tournament, and the last time she finished over par was the British Open last year where she finished fifth in a high-scoring championship at a windswept Royal Lytham.

Laura Davies, another of the pre-championship favorites, also made no impact. Her final-round 71 gave her a total of 293.

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