Inkster closing in on win, history

Tied for lead, she eyes Grand Slam sweep

June 27, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, Del. -- The setting will be similar, a steamy afternoon that will only add to playing in the heat of the final round in a major championship. This time, even more might be at stake for Juli Inkster.

Buoyed by her victory in the U.S. Women's Open three weeks ago, Inkster will be going after something other than just another major championship here in the McDonald's LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club.

Inkster will be chasing a piece of history, trying to follow Hall-of-Famers Pat Bradley and Mickey Wright as the only other LPGA players to have won all four Grand Slam events in their careers.

With a bogey on the 18th hole yesterday -- her only one in a round of 2-under-par 69 -- Inkster found herself tied at 10-under-par 203 with Nancy Scranton and Cristie Kerr, who birdied 18.

Four players -- defending champion Se Ri Pak of Korea, Meg Mallon, Rosie Jones and Liselotte Neumann of Sweden -- are two shots behind. Mallon fired an 8-under 63, tying the lowest score for a women's major.

Considering her position on the leader board and the accomplishments of those also in contention, Inkster realizes that today's final round will likely be more difficult than what took place in the Women's Open.

"I think there was more pressure on me to win the Open because I had a four-shot lead and it was my tournament to win," said Inkster, who wound up winning by five shots. "Here it's anybody's tournament. I think there's a lot less pressure on me."

There are 23 players within five shots of the leaders. Among the seven players at 7-under-par 206 are former Open champion Alison Nicholas of Great Britain. Eight more are clustered at 6-under-par 205, including former two-time champion Laura Davies of Great Britain.

Though she wound up relinquishing the lead, Inkster still remains squarely in the spotlight.

"Obviously she's got a lot of momentum," said Scranton, 39, who won her only major championship, the 1991 du Maurier, before undergoing reconstructive shoulder surgery five years ago. "She's played really well this year, not just at the Open. I think she'll feel good. I know I would."

If anything, Inkster is feeling a little tired. She admitted before the tournament began that she hadn't practiced much or slept much since her win at Old Waverly. She even seemed surprised to finish last week in Atlantic City, a few days before her 39th birthday.

"Overall, I didn't play as well as I did yesterday," Inkster said of a second-round 66, which gave her a share of the lead at 8-under with Kerr, Neumann and Kelli Kuehne, who fell back with a 2-over-par 73. "I couldn't get the ball close. Hopefully I'll do a better job of that tomorrow."

The way this usually difficult course has succumbed in the warm, dry weather -- a world away from the wet and cold the tournament usually saw in May -- Inkster knows that a shot or two under par will not win for her today. Especially based on what Mallon did.

Her score, which included five birdies on the front, tied the tournament record set by Patty Sheehan in Kings Island, Ohio, in 1984, as well as the modern single-round record for a major Sheehan shared with Helen Afredsson in the 1994 Women's Open and Mary Beth Zimmerman in the 1997 Dinah Shore.

"I thought it might be out there," said Mallon, 36, who won both the LPGA Championship and Women's Open in 1991. "When I came out today and the conditions were just perfect, I felt like if I kept it in the fairway, I would have the opportunity to shoot a low number."

Mallon wasn't alone in those thoughts. Pak, whose first of two majors came here last year, put herself in position for a second victory in as many weeks with a 4-under-par 67. Jones stayed in contention for the first major championship of her career with a 68. Neumann, looking for her first major since winning the 1988 Women's Open at Baltimore Country Club, hung in there despite an erratic 70.

"I'm really comfortable," said Pak, 21, who emerged from her season-long slump to win last week in Atlantic City. "I'm very fine outside. I'm pretty confident. We're talking, joking, walking, laughing, playing golf. I feel like it's pretty fun, not like last year."

It's difficult for Inkster not to stay loose. Unlike the women's Open, where her husband Brian joined her for the last two rounds, Inkster's two daughters came for this tournament.

After spending part of the day at the home of their mother's friends in Malverne, Pa., 9-year-old Hayley and 5-year-old Cori came to the course to see yesterday's finish. They even sat on her lap during the post-game press conference.

Cori already had something momentous happen to her on the trip. She lost her first tooth.

Asked how much she received from the tooth fairy, Cori's mother said, `She got 10 dimes.' "

"Mom," said Cori, "It was a lot more than that."

Not as much as her mother will receive -- $210,000 -- for winning. That, too, is not nearly what she will get in terms of securing her place in LPGA history along side two Hall-of-Famers.

"It would be huge," she said. "But until you do something like that, you shouldn't even think about it."

Pub Date: 6/27/99

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