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Gustafson holds on to win

Sweden's Sophie Gustafson survived a nervous final day at Yarra Yarra GC and needed to drain a knee-trembling four foot putt at the last to win the AAMI Women's Australian Open by a single shot from world number one Karrie Webb.

Gustafson finished with a one under par 71 for a 12 under 276 winning aggregate, while defending champion Webb birdied the last two holes for a flawless 68 and finished six shots clear of her compatriot Jane Crafter in third place.

Four ahead at the start of the day, Gustafson opened what appeared to be an unassailable seven shot lead following birdies at each of the first three holes.

But the long-hitting Swede saw her lead cut to just two shots at the turn and required birdies at the 15th and 17th, where she holed out from 40 feet, to take a two shot cushion going into the par five last.

The previous day Gustafson had closed her third round with her second eagle in three holes, but with the pressure mounting she scrambled to a par after needing three shots to reach the green. She had a chance to secure the title with a 12 foot birdie chance, but the Swede raised the tension by knocking it four feet past the hole.

Webb reached the green in two and made a brave effort for eagle from 35 feet before tapping in for her birdie.

"It was tough out there battling against Karrie and I'm so happy to have come out in front again," said Gustafson, who has now won two final day head to heads against Webb this season.

"I certainly made it a little harder for myself at the end there. I was very nervous. It was marginal whether I was in control for most of the day. Every time I go up against Karrie it's nerve-wracking because she is such a reat
player.

"The crowds were cheering for her all day and I could feel that. Around the 10th I felt like it was slipping away. But then on the 11th I made a good par putt and she (Webb) missed a short birdie, and this got me back on track again."

It was Gustafson's second victory of the season, the 27-year-old from Saro having also beaten Webb into first place in January's Subaru Memorial of Naples on the LPGA Tour.

Gustafson now has the distinction of being the women's open champion in four countries, having won the Italian, Irish and British Opens on the Evian Tour last season.

She also partnered compatriot Karin Koch to victory in the inaugural TSN Ladies World Cup Golf in Ireland, and played a key role in Europe's thrilling Solheim Cup win over the Americans at Loch Lomond.

Her victory today brought back memories of her final round performance at the Weetabix Women's British Open 2000 at Royal Birkdale. Seven ahead going into the final round, Gustafson eagled the first to move nine clear, but after a nervous afternoon needed a birdie at the last to finish two shots clear.

"I suppose it was a little similar to my final round in the Weetabix last year," added a relieved Gustafson, whose brother Per was amongst the large galleries in Melbourne's sand belt.

"That was also a tough day. I put myself and my caddie Chuck through a lot of torment that day as well. But this is a great confidence boost for me. It always helps winning an event so close to the first Major of the season."

Gustafson's win, which saw her collect £24,000, moved her to the top of the Evian Order of Merit, a title she is defending after finishing number one in Europe last season.

While Gustafson was draining birdies at the first three holes, Webb struggled to get going and posted six consecutive pars before making her first birdie of the day at the seventh.

She followed it with another at nine and, after missing the short birdie effort at the 11th, had to wait until the 17th and her birdie, birdie finish.

"I can't be too disappointed, I shot a 68 and the ladies in the score hut said that was the lowest of the day," said Webb, who was going for back to back titles after winning last week's ANZ Ladies Masters.

"I could have sat back and let it be Sophie's tournament, I could have kept plugging away. I decided I was going to shoot as low as I could.

"Last year I turned in 34 and shot 30 on the back nine to get my 64. There was always that possibility. I played well I just did not do enough.

"Sophie struggled a little bit in the middle of the round, but she played really well the last few holes. My hat is off to her. She played well. I did not do enough to win and she did."

Perhaps the key moment for Webb was her tee shot on the 16th which, like Gustafson's moments before, failed to find the fairway.

"I hit a poor drive on 16 after Sophie had already hit it into trouble," added Webb. "That probably was the most disappointing shot of them all. The fact Sophie was already in trouble and I had a good chance for birdie or
even eagle.

"But I played all the way to the death and I felt like I played pretty well. I just did not do quite enough to win."

Crafter finished alone in third thanks to a birdie at the last, while her fellow Aussie veteran, Corinne Dibnah, secured fourth spot on four under par after posting a two under 70.

Another Australian, Alison Munt, who saw her halfway lead disappear after carding a 78 in the third round, toured the Yarra Yarra layout in level par for a share of fifth with Germany's Elisabeth Esterl and Alison Nicholas of England, both of whom had 71's.




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