Philips Invitational Honoring Harvey Penick
Philips Invitational Honoring Harvey Penick
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LPGA rookie Akiko Fukushima wins new event

It was only fitting the American women's tour would crown its newest champion at one of its newest events.

Akiko Fukushima, a veteran of the Japanese women's tour but a LPGA rookie in the United States, shot a 1-over-par 71 today to hold on for two-stroke victory over Charlotta Sorenstam in the inaugural Philips Invitational Honoring Harvey Penick.

Fukushima, who won 13 titles in Japan before joining the American tour, led every round and finished at 13-under 267 at the Onion Creek Country Club. She is the first rookie to win on the U.S. women's tour this year.

Playing on painkillers because of neck spasms that started after Saturday's round, Fukushima showed little emotion today until she started crying after a 2-footer for par on 18.

"To be honest with you, I didn't think I'd be able to win this early in the year. I'm really happy and excited," said Fukushima, who speaks no English and used an interpreter to talk with reporters.

She won $120,000.

"I figured I would win maybe next year or the year after that, after I had been on the tour for a while," Fukushima said.

Sorenstam started the day 8-under and six strokes back before making a late charge for the lead with a final round 3-under 67. But a bogey on the par-four 16th left her two strokes back to finish at 269.

Another tour rookie, 22-year-old Mi Hyun Kim of Korea, and LPGA Hall of Fame inductee Beth Daniel, 43, tied for third at 9-under 271.

Playing in the group ahead of Fukushima, Sorenstam started today thinking the lead was out of range.

"I thought she was going to fly away," Sorenstam said. "Maybe if I thought of winning more, I might have had a chance."

Up by three strokes at the turn, Fukushima saw her lead whittled to one with consecutive bogeys on 12 and 13 and a Sorenstam birdie on from 5 feet on the par-four 15th.

But while the 25-year-old Fukushima played the final three holes even par, Sorenstam three-putted from 30 feet to bogey No. 16 and left a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th inches left of the hole.

"I wasn't nervous until before the 16th green. I've been more nervous and made better putts," Sorenstam said.

Fukushima made a 7-footer for par on 17 to go into the final hole two strokes up.

"She putted so well the two days I played with her," said Daniel, who set an LPGA record with nine consecutive birdies in Friday's second round. "Anything 10 feet and in was a gimme. I don't think she missed one."

Daniel's tie for third was her first top-10 finish this season. Her previous best was a tie for 22nd at the Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship in April.

Fukushima said she never got nervous playing for her first American title while paired with a Hall of Famer.

"I've won 13 titles in Japan, so I didn't really feel any pressure," she said. "Winning is really hard no matter when or where the tournament is."

The biggest problem was trying to keep up with long hitters Daniel and Kim despite her sore neck.

"I really couldn't take a full swing. It was kind of frustrating watching them hit long," Fukushima said.

Fukushima said she had never heard of Penick, the famed golf instructor and tournament namesake, and looked bewildered by the white cowboy hat and bronze bust of Penick given to the tournament champion.

"I don't know what to do with it," she said.

But she said she plans to return to defend her title next year.

"I'm hoping it will be easier to win," she said.


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