CARMEL, Ind. -- Nearly two hours after her four-foot putt for birdie had fallen into the cup on the 18th green, and more than an hour after her U.S. Women's Open championship had been confirmed, Lauri Merten still was having trouble believing it.
"I'm numb," said Merten, whose first Open victory was her firs tournament win since 1984, her second year on the LPGA tour.
In fact, she had gone through eight years of mostly indifferen performances until this season, her best year as a pro. This win simply made it unbelievably better.
Merten, 30, was around the fringes of the contenders for thre rounds, then came through with the low final round, a 4-under-par 68 and a 72-hole total of 280 to edge Helen Alfredsson and Donna Andrews by one stroke.
Alfredsson, who entered the last round with a two-shot lead could have shot par and won, but had a birdie and three bogeys for 74. Andrews, three behind at the start of yesterday's play, climbed into a tie for first at 7-under, and then the lead at 8-under, before bogeying the 14th to fall back.
All week, the last three holes exacted widespread frustratio from the field, scattering bogeys all over the place.
They coughed up a few birdies, too, and Merten, who lives in th Wilmington suburb of Greenville, Del., dug down to claim two of them and the championship.
Earlier in the round, she had a birdie at the second (12 feet), an a bogey at the third (failed to get up-and-down), followed by a succession of pars.
Starting at No. 8, where she was just trying to get a 60-foot put close, and it fell in, she made three straight birdies. A bogey at the 11th dropped her back to 6-under.
As late as the 16th tee, Merten trailed Alfredsson, Andrews an Pat Bradley, but then she took charge. She chipped in from 70 feet for a birdie at the 16th, two-putted the 17th for par, and made a four-foot birdie putt at the 18th.
"Standing on the 18th tee, the things that ran through my min were trusting my swing and not gripping the club too tightly. But, mainly, I was thinking about hitting the fairway," said Merten.
She followed the perfect drive with a 166-yard, 6-iron shot tha hit and released to the pin, which was at the back of the green. "Looking at that putt, I remembered that Patty [Sheehan] had made one to beat me in the last LPGA Championship, and that Scott Hoch had missed one in the Masters after standing over it awhile, and then I thought, 'Oh heck, hit it.' And it went right in the hole."
TH This was Merten's fifth Open (best finish since a tie for 17th in 1984) and first since 1987. With rounds of 71-71-70-68, Merten and Andrews (71-70-69-71) were the only ones to put up four sub-par rounds in a Women's Open.
Andrews, third in last year's Open, fell out of the lead when sh three-putted the 14th from 40 feet. "I heard the cheers from the 18th when I was on the 17th tee, and I made sure Lauri had made it [birdie].
"I went for birdies, but parred the 17th and 18th. At the last hole I hit my second shot 30 feet left of the flagstick, and had a downhill putt with a two-foot break. It missed by six inches on the low side."
Where Andrews, 26, was enthusiastic and seemed pleased wit her finish, Alfredsson and Bradley were visibly upset with theirs.
"I don't know if I've ever felt this disappointed in my life," sai Alfredsson. "All I had to do was shoot par -- that's what hurts even more.
"The drive on 18 was my best there all week, and I hit a great 8-iron on the green. I thought the putt [from 18 feet] was going right to left, and it went straight."
Bradley said: "I felt comfortable. All I had to do was play my game, continue what I was doing, but obviously that didn't materialize coming in."
Leading at the time, she came undone when a poor chip shot and a missed five-foot putt resulted in a bogey at the 15th, and a bad drive at one end and three putts at the other contributed to a double-bogey at 16.
Hiromi Kobayashi, who began the round two shots behinAlfredsson, ran off 13 consecutive pars, then bogeyed the 14th and the 18th to drop back and tie Bradley for fourth.
U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
The winner . . .
Lauri Merten .. .. 71-71-70-68- 280
. . and followers D. Andrews .. .. .. 71-70-69-71281
Alfredsson .. .. 68-70-69-74281
Pat Bradley .. .. ..72-70-68-73283
H. Kobayashi.. .. ..71-67-71-74283
P. Sheehan .. .. .. 73-71-69-71284
Betsy King .. .. .. 74-70-72-69285
M. McGann .. .. .. 70-66-78-71285
Nancy Lopez.. .. ..70-71-70-74285
A. Okamoto .. .. ..68-72-71-74285
Complete scores: 9C