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Sherri Steinhauer wins LPGA Legends Tour Open Championship at Innisbrook

PALM HARBOR — The celebratory champagne shower likely felt even sweeter for Sherri Steinhauer.

Steinhauer, 46, won the LPGA Legends Tour Open Championship on Sunday at Innisbrook by three strokes over Allison Finney, finishing at 3-under 141 in her first tournament in more than a year.

It was emotional for Steinhauer, who thought her career was over when chronic hip problems forced her to have two surgeries in the past 10 months.

"I'm absolutely shocked, because I honestly didn't know that if I'd ever play golf again," Steinhauer said. "So I'm just really happy to have even competed. To win just feels … it's amazing, like a miracle, really."

Steinhauer, who shot 2-under 70 in the second and final round, thought back to her last LPGA event, the Canadian Women's Open in August 2008, when she walked up the 18th fairway and told herself, "This could be the last time I ever compete again."

The hip pain had bothered her for six years, but "it got to the point where I couldn't walk anymore," she said.

Steinhauer had two surgeries, in February and May, to repair torn labrums in both hips, as well as a muscle rupture.

Her time away from the game came was fortuitous. It came as her mother, Nancie, was battling breast cancer, and Steinhauer went back to her hometown, Madison, Wis., to help her 78-year-old mom, who, she said, is "doing very, very well" now.

With her mother feeling better, Steinhauer — who has eight wins in 23 years on the LPGA Tour — attempted a comeback, starting to practice again five weeks ago.

A rookie on the Legends Tour, for players 45 and older, Steinhauer faced tough competition over the weekend.

She entered Sunday tied for the lead at 1 under with World of Golf Hall of Famer Betsy King and underdog Laura Shanahan Rowe, who qualified Thursday for the final spot in the tournament.

While King struggled putting early, bogeying three of the first four holes, and Shanahan Rowe struggled to get in a rhythm, Steinhauer's steady play kept her atop the leaderboard all day.

Shanahan Rowe finished the round at 3-over 74 and tied for third with Cathy Johnston-Forbes (72). King shot 80 to tie for 13th at 7 over.

Playing conditions were tougher Sunday, with gusts of wind and the threat of rain.

For Steinhauer, there were also threats from challengers. Finney (who had the day's best round, 69), Johnston-Forbes and Sherri Turner (73, finishing fifth at 3 over) each made a run and were either tied with or right behind Steinhauer on the back nine.

But as Johnston-Forbes, Turner and Finney faded down the stretch, Steinhauer, who has three pins in her left hip, held her ground.

Playing in the last group, Steinhauer played conservatively on the 18th hole, two-putting her way to the title and the $50,000 first prize.

She hopes to return to the LPGA Tour next season but plans to play a few LPGA Legends events too, including defending her Open Championship at Innisbrook next year.

"Oh, absolutely," she said. "I'll be back."

Sherri Steinhauer wins LPGA Legends Tour Open Championship at Innisbrook 11/22/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 22, 2009 9:51pm]
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