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Sheehan adds 31st trophy

With one 4-foot putt for the money on the 72nd hole Sunday, Patty Sheehan forgot about her faded drive into the right rough, she ignored her shaking hands and she tried to block out the prospect of a playoff if she missed. And when the ball dropped squarely in the hole, it was time to thrust both arms in the air and jab a feisty fist at the sky.

Sheehan, 36, who made the LPGA Hall of Fame in March, added the LPGA Championship to her gaudy collection of trophy room baubles, playing "pretty steadily all day." She shot 69 at Bethesda Country Club and beat early charging Lauri Merten by a stroke with a 9-under-par 275.

Sheehan earned a check for $150,000 out of the $1-million purse for winning her third LPGA Championship and her fourth major title. She drank champagne in the press room, then retreated to the member's pool for some giddy half-gainers off the diving board, still dressed in her paisley plus fours.

Sheehan's victory was more plucky than pretty in a week marked by serious scrambling. She admitted she had not played her best golf over the past four days. More importantly to her, though, was getting past her 30th victory (the minimum for Hall of Fame induction) and demonstrating to one and all that just because she'd made it, "I'm not going to roll over and die."

That was left to several players who entered the final round either ahead of Sheehan or in contention. Sheehan began Sunday tied for second with Cathy Johnston-Forbes at 7 under, two shots behind Jenny Lidback. The most serious run came from the back of the pack when Merten, starting the day at 4 under, tied a course and tournament record with a 4-under 31 on the front nine. But a three-putt bogey at the 13th and her failure to make another birdie down the stretch doomed her to second place.

"I'm really happy I played as well as I did," said Merten, who went to the driving range after her round to practice for a possible playoff until she was told Sheehan made her final putt for par. "I've never played this well in a major. I tried my hardest. To finish second in a major, I'm just tickled to death."

Barb Bunkowsky got to 7 under with a birdie at the 445-yard 12th hole. But she missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the 16th, a 5-footer for birdie at the 17th and what she described as a "very makable" 20-footer at the eighth and had to settle for third place, two strokes behind Sheehan.

"I had a chance to win it," she said. "I'm a little down because I should have made some of those putts."

There was the unheralded Lidback, who started the day at 9 under and, playing with the veteran Sheehan, bogeyed three of her first four holes. That started a free fall that didn't end until Lidback completed a 7-over round of 78 that left her in an eight-way tie for 17th place.

"I must have been more nervous than I thought," said Lidback, 30, a five-year pro who never had played in a final group over the last 18 holes. "I've learned a lot. What I've learned is that it's so hard to stay focused on your game."

Johnston-Forbes, playing one group ahead of Sheehan and Lidback, briefly tied for the lead with a birdie on her second hole. But she could not sustain the pace or handle the pressure of a major championship and shot 74, tying for eighth place.

But mostly there was Sheehan, doing exactly what it took to hold them all off.

Sheehan made it interesting, though. Still holding a two-stroke lead over Merten, she bogeyed the 195-yard uphill 16th hole.

Following a mostly routine two-putt par at the 17th, Sheehan stepped up to the 18th tee knowing she needed only another par 4 on the 379-yard hole to win.

"I wasn't confident with a 4-footer to make it to win," Sheehan said. "I was nervous. My hands were shaking. I just told myself give it a good stroke and it'll go in."

So it did, proving once again there really is life after the Hall of Fame. And memorable major victories, too.

Sheehan's majors

1983 LPGA Championship (by 2 strokes)

1984 LPGA Championship (by 10 strokes)

1992 U.S. Women's Open (won playoff)

1993 LPGA Championship (by 1 stroke)

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