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Mallon delivers as major player, sinks veterans with birdie on 18

BETHESDA — BETHESDA -- When Meg Mallon won for the first time in five years on the LPGA Tour in February, her popularity was such that more than two dozen players showed up on the 18th green to celebrate her victory at the Oldsmobile LPGA Classic.

Yesterday, Mallon won much more than just a popularity contest.

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After playing partners Pat Bradley and Ayako Okamoto barely missed long birdie putts on the final hole, Mallon made a 12-footer to win the $1 million Madza LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club. The victory was worth $150,000 and a brand-new Miata to Mallon.

"It hasn't sunk in," said Mallon, 28, who battled 99-degree heat, her own nerves and two of the tour's most experienced players to win her first major championship. "What a way to finish a golf tournament. It's something as a kid that you make putts for. It's a dream situation, playing against Pat Bradley and Ayako Okamoto. I felt like I was in a dream."

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Mallon's birdie putt punctuated a resilient round of 4-under-par 67 for a total of 10-under 274. Bradley and Okamoto, whose putts each turned away at the last moment, shot 68s and finished tied at 9-under 275. Defending champion Beth Daniel, who shot 69, came in four strokes behind.

The birdie came after Mallon nearly four-putted from 100 feet on the 17th hole. While she was standing over a 15-footer to save bogey, Mallon thought what others on television might have said had she missed. "They were saying, 'This is typical. This is where the pressure is showing,' " she recalled. "I didn't want to prove them right."

Mallon made the putt at 17, but still had some obstacles left. The first came as she started to take her driver back on the 18th tee. A car horn beeped on a nearby road, causing Mallon momentarily to lose her concentration. But her tee shot, though 20 yards behind Bradley's and 30 yards behind Okamoto's, found the right edge of the fairway.

Hitting first, Mallon nailed her approach from 167 yards away on the 379-yard hole. Using a 5-iron instead of a 4-iron -- "I knew I'd be pumped up," she said -- she hit her ball 12 feet above the hole. Bradley's ball landed 20 feet below the hole. Okamoto put her approach 2 feet inside Bradley's. After this group started the day tied at 6-under, it came down to their final putts.

"I had a very good feeling," said Bradley. "I had made excellent putts on 15 [for birdie] and 16 [to save bogey]. I had a good feeling standing over the putt. It just didn't get there."

Said Okamoto, who narrowly had missed a 15-footer for birdie at 17: "When I hit the putt [at 18], I thought the ball went in. I was on my way to pick it up out of the cup."

After Bradley's putt turned left in front of the hole and Okamoto's turned right, it was Mallon's turn. She had putted well throughout the round. Included among her seven birdies was a 45-footer from the fringe at No. 9 that gave her a two-shot lead, and, after a bogey at 10 cost her sole possession of the lead, she had birdied 12 and 13.

But, now, with the prospect of sudden death against these two 40-year-old veterans staring her right in her usually smiling face, Mallon stood over her putt. The image of her second putt at 17, a 12-footer that she jammed 4 feet past the cup, lingered in her mind.

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"After I charged my putt at 17, I had to make sure I didn't do something -- should I say -- dumb," said Mallon, who recently had gone to her teacher in Denver for a putting lesson. "I just wanted to get it on line. Once I hit it, I just wanted to hear it drop."

When the ball fell, Mallon jumped into the air and then into her caddie's arms. Bradley, showing her affection for a fellow New Englander, hugged the winner warmly. As Mallon went into the scorer's tent, Daniel and Amy Alcott were there to congratulate her.

It was a disappointing defeat for Bradley, looking for a second LPGA Championship and her seventh major title, and for Okamoto, still looking for her first major victory. Though they have combined for 43 LPGA wins, Bradley and Okamoto were relegated again to the role of runners-up.

"There are losses in the game that are average, and there are tough losses, and this one is certainly one of the tough losses," said Bradley, whose second-place finishes (53) nearly double her victories (27). "It was a terrific battle between the three of us. It was a tough one to go walk away from. The only consolation is that I lost to a birdie."

Okamoto, who has finished second four times in major tournaments, tried to mask her frustration. Asked how disappointed she was, Okamoto said jokingly: "I'm so disappointed, I don't think anybody should come near me for the next two or three hours or they might get hurt."

Though some tried to say that she played better than Mallon, with three birdies and no bogeys compared with Mallon's seven birdies but three bogeys, Okamoto said: "The winner always plays the best golf. Meg played the best golf."

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Now that she has won again, to leapfrog into third place on this year's money list behind Bradley and Daniel, Mallon would like to drop the label as the friendliest player on the LPGA Tour. She got that tag after a newspaper poll during last year's tour stop in Toledo, Ohio. The next event will be back there this week.

"After I won at Oldsmobile, [LPGA commissioner] Charlie Mechem said to me, 'The first time they love you, the second they all want to beat you,' " Mallon said with the widest smile this side of Nancy Lopez. "I think the win earlier in the year helped me today. Every week is new and different, but I kind of like this one."

Winning majors can do that.

LPGA Championship

'

The winner . . .

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Meg Mallon.. .. ..68-68-71-67.. .. 274

. . . and followers

Pat Bradley.. .. 68-68-71-68.. .. 275

Ayako Okamoto.. ..70-64-73-68.. .. 275

Beth Daniel.. .. 71-70-68-69.. .. 278

Deb Richard .. .. 67-70-72-70.. .. 279

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Barb Bunkowsky.. .70-68-70-71.. .. 279

Betsy King.. .. ..69-75-67-70.. .. 281

JoAnne Carner.. . 71-70-70-71.. .. 282

Final-round scores

10-under par

Meg Mallon, $150,000.. .. .. 68-68-71-67--274

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under par

Pat Bradley, $80,000.. .. .. 68-68-71-68--275

Ayako Okamoto, $80,000.. .. 70-64-73-68--275

6-under par

Beth Daniel, $52,500.. .. .. 71-70-68-69--278

5-under par

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Deb Richard, $38,750.. .. .. 67-70-72-70--279

Barb Bunkowsky, $38,750.. .. 70-68-70-71--279

3-under par

Betsy King, $29,500.. .. .. 69-75-67-70--281

2-under par

JoAnne Carner, $26,000.. .. 71-70-70-71--282

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1-under par

Juli Inkster, $23,500.. .. . 72-70-71-70--283

Par

Amy Alcott, $21,000.. .. .. 69-70-71-74--284

1-over par

Liselotte Neumann, $17,158.. 72-73-71-69--285

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Rosie Jones, $17,158.. .. .. 69-69-75-72--285

Michelle Estill, $17,158.. . 69-75-67-74--285

Sherri Steinhauer, $17,158.. 71-71-69-74--285

2-over par

Nancy White, $12,604.. .. .. 75-70-72-69--286

Lynn Adams, $12,604.. .. .. 71-71-73-71--286

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Pamela Wright, $12,604.. .. 73-70-71-72--286

Jane Geddes, $12,604.. .. .. 69-74-71-72--286

Colleen Walker, $12,604.. .. 67-74-73-72--286

Judy Dickinson, $12,604.. .. 69-73-71-73--286

Shirley Furlong, $12,604 .. .69-70-73-74--286

3-over par

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Danielle Ammaccapane, $9,945. 73-72-71-71--287

Dottie Mochrie, $9,945.. .. . 72-73-71-71--287

Val Skinner, $9,945.. .. .. . 74-70-70-73--287

Dawn Coe, $9,945.. .. .. .. . 70-73-71-73--287

4-over par

Susie Redman, $8,533.. .. .. 73-74-73-68--288

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Cindy Figg-Currier, $8,533.. 75-71-71-71--288

Nanci Bowen, $8,533.. .. .. . 74-71-72-71--288

Hollis Stacy, $8,533.. .. .. 69-75-73-71--288

Nina Foust, $8,533.. .. .. .. 68-75-72-73--288

5-over par

Dana Lofland, $7,008.. .. .. 72-74-71-72--289

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Caroline Keggi, $7,008.. .. . 70-75-72-72--289

Laurie Rinker, $7,008.. .. .. 70-73-74-72--289

Janet Anderson, $7,008.. .. . 74-70-72-73--289

Laurel Kean, $7,008.. .. .. . 71-73-72-73--289

Becky Pearson, $7,008.. .. .. 76-70-68-75--289

6-over par

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Terry-Jo Myers, $5,404.. .. . 73-74-73-70--290

Kris Tschetter, $5,404.. .. . 76-69-73-72--290

Peggy Kirsch, $5,404 .. .. .. 71-74-72-73--290

Marta Figueras-Dotti, $5,404. 69-74-74-73--290

Martha Nause, $5,404.. .. .. 73-72-71-74--290

Debbie Massey, $5,404.. .. .. 70-71-75-74--290

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Katie Peterson, $5,404.. .. . 73-72-69-76--290

7-over par

Mitzi Edge, $4,333 .. .. .. ..71-73-74-73--291

Tina Barrett, $4,333.. .. .. 70-74-73-74--291

Vicki Fergon, $4,333 .. .. .. 69-72-76-74--291

8-over par

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Hiromi Kobayashi, $3,633.. .. 69-75-75-73--292

Trish Johnson, $3,633.. .. .. 71-74-73-74--292

Kate Hughes, $3,633.. .. .. . 72-71-73-76--292

Chris Johnson, $3,633.. .. .. 71-71-73-77--292

9-over par

Penny Pulz, $2,883.. .. .. .. 75-72-74-72--293

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Missie McGeorge, $2,883.. .. 74-72-75-72--293

Cindy Rarick, $2,883.. .. .. 72-73-74-74--293

Laura Davies, $2,883.. .. .. 71-76-71-75--293

Missie Berteotti, $2,883.. .. 72-74-72-75--293

10-over par

Tammie Green, $2,283 .. .. .. 72-73-75-74--294

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Sandra Spuzich, $2,283.. .. . 71-74-75-74--294

Gina Hull, $2,283.. .. .. .. 71-73-73-77--294

11-over par

Alice Miller, $1,783.. .. .. 74-73-77-71--295

Ellie Gibson, $1,783.. .. .. 74-72-73-76--295

Brandie Burton, $1,783.. .. . 77-68-74-76--295

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Sally Little, $1,783.. .. .. 75-67-77-76--295

Mary Murphy, $1,783.. .. .. . 73-72-73-77--295

13-over par

Cathy Reynolds, $1,458.. .. ..75-72-76-73--296

Jenny Lidback, $1,458.. .. .. 72-75-76-73--296

Anne-Marie Palli, $1,458.. .. 74-71-76-75--296

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Patty Sheehan, $1,458.. .. .. 71-74-74-77--296

14-over par

Lenore Rittenhouse, $1,308.. 72-75-75-76--298

Kim Shipman, $1,308.. .. .. . 72-73-77-76--298

15-over par

Sue Ertl, $1,207.. .. .. .. . 74-73-80-72--299

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Martha Foyer, $1,207.. .. .. 75-72-70-82--299

16-over par

Deborah McHaffie, $1,132.. .. 66-81-79-75--301

18-over par

Diane Daugherty, $1,107.. .. 72-73-75-83--303

Leaders cards

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Cards of the leaders after the final round yesterday of the $1 million Mazda LPGA Championship:

Par out:.. .. .. 454.. .. 344.. .. 434-35

Mallon out:.. .. 455.. .. 243.. .. 333-32

Bradley out:.. .. 454.. .. 344.. .. 424-34

Okamoto out:.. .. 454.. .. 344.. .. .434-35

Par in:.. .. .. . 435.. .. 544.. . 344-36-71-284

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Mallon in:.. .. . 534 .. .. 444 .. .353-35-67-274

Bradley in:.. .. 334.. .. 543.. . 444-34-68-275

Okamoto in:.. .. 335.. .. 434.. . 344-33-68-275


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