LAKE ORION, Mich. -- Helen Alfredsson, on her way to making a shambles of the 49th U.S. Women's Open, wound up making a shambles of her own round yesterday.
Alfredsson, who had led through the first two rounds, got the margin to seven before losing eight shots to par in the last 11 holes. Lost, too, was the lead.
Patty Sheehan, who knows a little something about collapsing in a U.S. Women's Open, turned out to be the beneficiary of this backup in the third round at Indianwood Golf and Country Club yesterday.
When the flames from the crash-and-burn had subsided, Sheehan was atop the leader board with a 2-under-par round of 69 and a tournament record-low 54-hole total of 206.
Tammie Green also shot 69 and was a shot back at 207. Alfredsson's skid stopped on 76 and a total of 208. That turned it into a wide-open championship, with only six shots separating the top dozen players.
"It was just the kind of day when a mistake costs you right away," said Alfredsson, who had set the previous three-round record of 207 before letting the title get away with a closing 74 last year.
"It's hard -- very hard -- to explain," said Alfredsson, who took a few minutes to vent her displeasure before getting into the question-and-answer session.
"I couldn't really pinpoint anything because most of the day was good shots. I either had a wrong club or missed a putt. I guess I'll have to go to the range and then hit some putts to see what I was doing.
"It is very hard when you feel like you are paying attention and you are putting your best effort on every shot and you still lose shots. No excuses; it's just the way it was. Still, it's hard to see any light [right now]."
The 29-year-old Swede began with four pars, then seemingly put this one away with three successive birdies that got her to 13-under par (a Women's Open record) and a seven-shot lead. At the time, it seemed unlikely she would not make another birdie.
Instead, there was a three-putt bogey from five feet at the ninth green, and further deviations at the 11th, 14th and 16th. At the 188-yard 17th -- a hole that cost at least five of the challengers dearly -- her 3-iron shot hit the left side of the green and kicked left down a hill.
Her chip shot hit a branch she didn't even think was in play, and a subsequent chip caught the downslope and ran to the front of the green. Two putts. Double bogey.
She put the cap on it by missing a four-foot par putt at the final hole.
Sheehan had the most rock-solid round of the top challengers when she reeled off 15 straight pars, birdied the 16th from 40 feet and the 18th from 18 feet for her 69 and what suddenly became a one-stroke lead.
Later, assessing Alfredsson's situation, Sheehan said, "You're really not sure what you can do to stop the bleeding. Thank goodness you run out of holes. It's a helpless feeling."
Sheehan should know. She had the 1990 title wrapped up and ready to take home from the Atlanta Athletic Club but then couldn't make anything work. With a rain-forced 36 holes on Sunday, she led by 12 strokes early in the third round and by 11 early in the final round.
When it was over, Sheehan (75-76) had lost nine strokes to par in 33 holes and Betsy King (71-70) was accepting the trophy.
"I can relate to her," Sheehan said. "I know she's hurting and it's not a good feeling."
Not when you make one bogey in the first 43 holes, then make six, as well as a double, in the last 11.
Of her round, which included three par-saving putts after missing greens, Sheehan, age 37 and in her 19th Women's Open, said: "I played safe on a lot of holes. You look at those pins; they were sucker placements.
"I wasn't trying to make anything happen -- I tend to mess up and make mistakes when I do."
She paused, then said, "Given the windy conditions and the pins, this was an extremely difficult course. There is disaster lurking. It becomes patience and experience."
Sheehan exorcised those 1990 devils two years later at Oakmont Country Club when she came out of a rain delay to birdie the last two holes to tie in regulation, then beat Juli Inkster for the title in an 18-hole playoff.
Among those playing seesaw rounds behind Sheehan, Green and Alfredsson were Alicia Dibos, who started at 5-under, got to seven, and later double-bogeyed the 17th en route to a 73-210 (-3); Laura Davies, who birdied the first hole to get within three of the lead but wound up bogeying the last two holes for 75-211; and Michelle Estill, who lost five shots in 10 holes, then closed with eight straight pars for 75-212.
U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
The leader . . .
Patty Sheehan 66-71-69-206
. . . and selected followers
Tammie Green 66-72-69-207
Helen Alfredsson 63-69-76-208
Donna Andrews 67-72-70-209
Pat Bradley 72-69-70-211
Laura Davies 68-68-75-211
Liselotte Neumann 69-72-71-212
Betsy King 69-71-72-212
Beth Daniel 69-74-71-214
Amy Alcott 71-67-77-215
Nancy Lopez 73-71-73-217
Kim Williams 72-74-72-218
Sarah LeBrun Ingram 74-71-77-222
Complete scores: 12C