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Inkster cruises to LPGA Hall of Fame

Juli Inkster didn't mind that the Ryder Cup overshadowed her entrance into the LPGA Hall of Fame.

In fact, she was just as enthralled by the U.S. team's stirring comeback as any other golf fan, even with her own tournament to win.

Inkster became the 17th member of the LPGA Hall of Fame on Sunday, dominating the final round of the $800,000 Safeway LPGA Golf Championship to win by six strokes.

"We won the Ryder Cup, I won. Great!" she said as she walked into the clubhouse.

She was asked if she felt upstaged.

"Oh No, are you kidding?," she said. "I'm so proud of those guys. They had so much pressure on them, and they played with so much heart."

The Americans were celebrating their Ryder Cup victory just about the time Inkster was teeing off on No. 1. She had been watching the event on TV in her hotel room before heading to the course, and was asking about the U.S. team's progress during her first few holes.

As it turned out, Inkster could afford to have her mind wander toward Brookline, Mass.

She shot a 2-under 70 and led the 54-hole tournament almost from the beginning, finishing at 9-under 207. Tina Barrett and 1998 U.S. amateur champion Grace Park tied for second.

Inkster bogeyed only two holes all day, 14 and 18. She hit her approach shot within 12 feet on the final hole, then three-putted. She shrugged her shoulders at the gallery, made the putt and promptly got a shower of champagne from a group of fellow players.

"It's great to have your peers there and rooting you on," Inkster said. "I think a lot of people were pulling for me, which really makes it nice."

Inkster won her fifth tournament of the year and first since the LPGA Championship in Wilmington, Del., in late June. That was her second major of the year, as she also won the U.S. Open. She has 22 career victories, including five majors.

Only Karrie Webb, who missed the cut for only the second time in 22 tournaments this year, has more 1999 victories than Inkster - six.

Under the old Hall of Fame qualification system, golfers with at least 10 years on the tour needed to win at least 30 official events, including two majors, 35 events with one major or 40 events without a major. But this year the Hall switched to a point system that made it easier to get in. Inkster's 22 victories, plus five majors, equaled the required 27 points.

"To not have it drag on and to win convincingly, I couldn't have drawn a better script," Inkster said.

The 39-year-old Inkster joined Beth Daniel and Amy Alcott in qualifying for the Hall of Fame this season.

Inkster, who won $120,000 with the victory, was extremely consistent on the 6,307-yard Columbia-Edgewater Country Club course, even amid windy, cool conditions. She was tied with her friend Rosie Jones after Friday's first round, then shot a 70 Saturday to take a three-stroke lead as the other golfers struggled in the unpredictable weather.

On Sunday, she birdied Nos. 5, 6 and 7 to pad her lead, and was never threatened after that.

"I think she's a great ambassador for the golf, and the word 'competitive' is Juli," said Jones, who dropped out of contention with an 8-over 80 on Saturday.

Barrett shot a 4-under 68 to follow Saturday's 77 and finish tied for second.

Park, who breezed through the Futures Tour to earn her LPGA Tour card for next season, finished in the money for the first time this year. She played in her fourth and final event of 1999 on a sponsor's exemption and earned $64,410 with the tie for second.

 


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