American retains title


For the second successive year, it was champagne for Sherri Steinhauer at the end of the Weetabix British Open. By sinking a six-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole, the American came up trumps after a see-saw final round at Woburn yesterday.

One ahead at the start of the day, Steinhauer opened with a double-bogey six and from then on it was a hard battle through a swirling wind to hold off the battery of challengers and the pressure that came with aiming to become the first player in 18 years to make a successful defence.

That final putt, which followed a lucky bounce from the back of a bunker, secured a level-par 73 for a nine-under 283 total and a one-shot win over Sweden's former world number one Annikaa Sorenstam.

"This year is even sweeter," said the 36-year-old from Wisconsin, who had come from five behind to win at Royal Lytham last year. "Being out in front and with everyone talking about me defending, it really was tough out there."

For much of the afternoon, the outcome hung on the toss of a many-sided coin. With nine holes to play, three shots covered seven players and the safest money was on a play-off.

It had not been the best of weeks for the home contingent but Helen Dobson, attempting to be the first home winner since Alison Nicholas in 1987, suddenly had the cheers echoing round the pine trees as she mounted a late bid for glory. But, having come from behind, Dobson was tripped up in her run for the finishing line by a three-putt bogey at the 17th.

Dobson's seven-under-par 285 total left her two shots behind Steinhauer, and sharing third place with Australia's Fiona Pike, who had led on her own at one stage, and another talented American, Cindy Flom.

Steinhauer, the third American winner in four years, is the first to stage a successful defence since compatriot Debbie Massey at Northumberland in 1981. Last year, her victory in the Lytham gales came as major shock; this year it was no surprise.

She came to England at number eight on the US moneylist and with a victory in the JAL Big Apple Classic last month. "Last year's British Open win gave me a huge boost and to do it twice in a row really is something else," she said.

For Sorenstam, who closed with a 72, it was another case of so near and yet so far. It was the third time she has finished second and it could so easily have been a first victory if a number of short putts hadn't slipped by.

"But I passed a few people and I have to be happy with that," said the 28-year-old, who now has her sights set on regaining the number one spot from Australia's Karrie Webb.

For Webb, who launched her career with a victory here in 1995, it was a disappointing tournament. The 24-year-old, who has won six times on the US tour this season, finished on one over par after a 74.