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Gustafson claims Biarritz title in playoff

Sweden's Sophie Gustafson emerged the victor at the season ending EUR165,000 Biarritz Ladies Classic, defeating fellow Solheim Cupper Mhairi McKay from Scotland at the first extra hole after a dramatic final day at Le Phare GC by the Bay of Biscay.

The 29-year-old from Gothenburg carded a blistering final round 64, which included a double bogey at the 14th, to reach ten under par and force her way into extra time, with McKay returning a 66 to match her total.

But Riikka Hakkarainen, a diminutive Finn who showed a huge heart, is justified to feel aggrieved having led for the majority of the day, only to fall at the final hurdle when her ball was badly plugged in the 18th greenside bunker, resulting in a tear-inducing double bogey six for a 69, when a par would have seen her hoist the bronze trophy and EUR24,750 first prize.

The Finn shared third place on nine under par with second round leader Helen Alfredsson, whose putting let her down during the early part of the round, carding four bogeys to the turn, which was in stark contrast to the first two days where her scorecard remained blemish free.

Gustafson put pressure on the leaders with two opening birdies and an eagle at the third hole. Further birdies followed at the sixth and seventh to turn in 29 and the Swede was seemingly cruising to her first European Tour win since the 2001 AAMI Australian Open. But a double bogey five at the 14th only slowed momentum as she rallied with gutsy birdies at the 15th and 16th to return to 10 under.

McKay played excellently to give herself the chance of a playoff with four birdies on her back nine, but was still trailing the Finn until the final hole. With Hakkarainen in dire straits, McKay had the chance to end proceedings with a 12-footer, but it slipped by.

In the playoff Gustafson hit a massive drive, but the Scot took the upper hand when she knocked a sand wedge to four feet. Gustafson responded with a lob wedge to eight feet and holed the ensuing putt. McKay could not answer back, pulling her four footer left of the hole.

"It's so great to have finally won again," said Gustafson, who also secured the 2002 Wedgwood stroke average trophy with a 70.59 average.

"It's been an up and down year and this is a great way to close out the season."

England's Kirsty S. Taylor wrapped up the Bill Johnson rookie of the year trophy, presented by Wedgwood. The 23-year-old from Basingstoke finished 24th on the order of merit.

"It's been a great year, I've loved every minute of it, I had a dodgy middle part of the season, but the highlight was obviously Wales and playing with Laura Davies," said Taylor, whose best finish was third at the Wales WPGA Championship of Europe in August.

"I feel privileged to be rookie of the year, it's something you can only do once but I don't think I lived up to the standards that Suzann (Pettersen) set last year. Next season, I don't want to set my goals to high - I just want to live for the moment."

Spain's Paula Marti, absent this week due to commitments in the USA, was crowned the Evian Ladies European Tour order of merit winner for 2002, keeping the title in Spain for the second year running after compatriot Raquel Carriedo secured the title in 2001.

And after a nail-biting vote from the members of the Tour, World number one Annika Sorenstam from Sweden was awrded the Waterford Crystal Ladies European Tour Player's player of the year trophy by a solitary vote from Paula Marti and Denmark's Iben Tinning.

Sorenstam has won ten times around the world this year and in four events she played in Europe, she has won three times - the Evian Masters, ANZ Masters and the Compaq Open in her homeland.


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