Rookie wins Tournament of Champions

Akiko Fukushima had a 4-under 68 to overcome a four-stroke deficit and win the LPGA Tournament of Champions in Mobile Alabama, by one stroke over Maria Hjorth and Karrie Webb.

Akiko Fukushima had a 4-under 68 to overcome a four-stroke deficit and win the LPGA Tournament of Champions in Mobile Alabama, by one stroke over Maria Hjorth and Karrie Webb.

Fukushima finished with a 9-under 279 total and she was not guaranteed the victory until Hjorth bogeyed the 18th. "I never thought I could win this tournament," said Fukushima, who was downhill from Hjorth and could not see the putt, so she did not know that there would not be a playoff.

"I never expected to win this tournament and now that I have, I am very happy to be here," the Japanese rookie said through an interpreter.

An eagle on the 16th put her in the lead. On the 463-yard par-5, Fukushima hit a 5-iron into the green to set up the eagle putt from 24 feet. "I knew that was my last chance to win the tournament," she said. "I thought that I had a chance to make the eagle and win the tournament, so when it went in I was very happy."

Although she began the final round four strokes behind Hjorth at 5-under, birdies on holes 1, 3 and 4 quickly put Fukushima in contention. A bogey at the nineth dropped her to 7-under, but Hjorth bogeyed the same hole to keep the margin at one stroke.

Hjorth, a native of Sweden who had led by three strokes for the past two days, finished with a final-round 73 and was tied at 280 with Webb, the first-round leader who closed with a 70.

While Fukushima was steady, Hjorth had three birdies and three bogeys, although none so critical as the one on 18. She had a 5-foot par putt to force a playoff, but it just missed to the right. "I thought that if it would move, it would be a little bit right, " Hjorth said. "But I started it right edge and there was no chance it would go in."

Hjorth, Fukushima and Webb all had difficult birdie putts of 80 feet on the 18th, the most severe green on the course. From the lower terrace, Fukushima and Webb managed to get down in two, but it wasn't easy.

Fukushima, who won $122,000 out of a total purse of $750,000, qualified for the Tournament of Champions with her only other victory on the LPGA Tour, at the Phillips Invitational in May in Austin, Texas. She will finish the season second in the Rookie of the Year points race behind Korean Mi Hyun Kim, who did not play in Mobile.

Chris Johnson, playing in the final pair with Hjorth, shot a 71 yesterday and finished fourth at 281. She took a one-shot lead on the back nine, but a bogey at 15th ended her chances.

Defending champion Kelly Robbins had the low round for the second day in a row. Her 67 put her in a tie for fifth with Julie Inkster at 282.

The tournament was a no-cut event featuring only winners of LPGA events over the last three years and active members of the LPGA Hall of Fame.

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