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Lunn leads Australian sweep at Pleasant Valley

When Mardi Lunn was an amateur playing in Australia, she considered it an honor to have her name on the same trophy as Jan Stephenson.

Now, Lunn has done that one better.

The 31-year-old Aussie earned her first LPGA title today when she shot 67 to beat Stephenson by one stroke and lead an Australian sweep of the areaWEB.COM Challenge.

"Jan was my idol," said Lunn, who finished 13-under-par on the par-72, 6,334-yard Pleasant Valley Country Club course to earn the first prize of $120,000. "I always looked up to her."

Stephenson, 47, who hasn't won a tournament in almost 12 years, also shot 67 on the day for a total of 274 and her best finish since 1995. Fellow Aussie Rachel Heatherington, also five-under on the day, was two strokes back at 273 to round out the top three sweep.

And that's without the country's -- and the LPGA Tour's -- No. 1 star, Karrie Webb, who did not play in the tournament so she could rest up for next week's British Open.

"It's pretty neat," said Stephenson, who was the LPGA's rookie of the year in 1974. "When I first came over, I was the lone Aussie carrying the flag. ... It really makes it neat to see these kids doing well. Except I hate it when they call me 'Grandma'."

Starting the day at 8-under, Lunn birdied the second, third and fifth holes before saving par with a lucky bounce off a tree near the sixth fairway. She dropped back to 10-under with a bogey on No. 8, then birdied the 10th and 13th to improve to 13-under and hold off Stephenson's charge.

After tapping in an easy putt to par No. 18, Lunn waited for the final group to finish, then hugged her caddie, her mother and her playing partners. When the final group was done, Sherri Steinhauer, who led by two strokes before shooting 75 on the final day, doused Lunn with a can of Zima.

It should have been a Foster's -- or some other Australian brand to celebrate the country's recent success in women's golf.

"It's quite amazing, especially considering that Karrie Webb isn't here," said Lunn, who has now won tournaments on four continents. "That just shows the depth of our country, even with such a small population."

Stephenson parred the first eight holes before making birdie on the ninth hole, then chipped in for a birdie on No. 13 and followed it with birdies on 14 and 15 to move two strokes behind Lunn.

Stephenson put some pressure on Lunn when she rolled her approach shot over the hole on No. 18, leaving it 18 inches from the cup. But Lunn, who was playing in the same group, was able to make the easy two-putt from about 6 feet to clinch it.

Dottie Pepper shot 69 in the final round to finish in fourth place at 10-under, three strokes back. Jane Crafter (70), Lorie Kane (72) and Beth Daniel (71) were tied for fifth at minus-9.

Sherri Steinhauer took a two-stroke lead into the final day but made a double bogey on the par-4 second hole and finished with a 75 to wind up 8-under at 270.

Because of thunderstorms forecast for the area in the afternoon, the pairings were changed to threesomes and the players teed off at Nos. 1 and 10 in the morning in an attempt to beat the rain. They were successful.

Pleasant Valley had been a stop on the men's tour every year from 1968 until last year, when it could not find a date on the PGA schedule that could lure in the top golfers and the big sponsors.

The course is not new to the LPGA, though. The tour played here several times from the 1962 Lady Carling Open to the LPGA Championship in 1974.

 

AP


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