Steinhauer stays steady to record third major victory

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The Independent Online

For the second Sunday in three weeks, the north-west coast witnessed a three-times Open champion strolling to victory without a rival for company. Sherri Steinhauer is no Tiger Woods and never will be; but at times here yesterday she did a mighty fine impression.

In fact, the American's three-shot margin of victory was one better that that of her countryman's 30 miles down the road at Hoylake a fortnight ago. What made it all the more remarkable was the gap stretching back to her two previous Women's British Open successes. They came so long ago that this tournament was not even classed as a major.

"That's what gives me the biggest thrill - that this is now a major" said Steinhauer, at 43 the event's oldest winner. "No longer will I have to bite my lip when people just assume that my two other Crystal Vases were majors as well."

Since winning her second British Open in succession in 1999, the Wisconsian has managed to lift just one other trophy and her best showing in a major had been a tie for 16th. "What can I say? Perhaps it's this place," she said, referring to the Lytham links where she first shot to prominence in 1998. "I just love the imagination it requires and that probably relit my fire."

But rather than imagination it was the control of her level-par 72 that characterised her humbling of the LPGA's established stars. Until the irrelevant five up the 18th, Steinhauer had been the only competitor all day to keep a bogey off her card, which was some feat considering the calibre of pursuers breathing down her exposed neck.

Not that they breathed too heavily as she maintained her overnight, seven-under-par total. Only Cristie Kerr, the 28-year-old from Miami, got within genuine sniffing distance down the stretch and at one point even threatened to make it a dramatic denouement as she closed to within one with three holes left. But in doing so, she was forced to play the risk game and at Lytham this is only going to keep you in the black for so long.

A bogey at the 16th was compounded by a double-bogey down the last and even a tie for second would not be consolation enough. Alongside Kerr came Sophie Gustafson, the Swede who helped give the proceedings a spine-tingling sense of déjà vu. When Steinhaeur triumphed in 1998 the runner-up was a young blonde ... by the name of Sophie Gustafson.

Any home hopes of a reprise of 2004 were put to bed mercifully early. Karen Stupples' chance went when the 33-year-old made a hash of the first hole - and so many thereafter. After a 78, she could still claim the honour of being leading Briton as well as sneaking inside the top 10. In truth, though, she was in the also-rans, but in good company.

Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam were the names on everybody's lips coming in here. But going out? Sorenstam had a final-round 79 and the world No 1 finished outside the top 30. The 35-year-old will just put it down to experience as she has little else to learn.

The same cannot be said of Wie. The 16-year-old's fine record of coming in the top five in all the other majors this year was ruined by a six-over total which left her tied for 26th, her second-worst placing in a major.

The schoolgirl might wish to replay the tapes and take a lesson from Steinhauer - mature and magnificent.

* Celebrating 10 years as a professional, Tiger Woods last night achieved his 50th US Tour win - from 196 events. Two weeks after winning the Open, Woods had four 66s to take the Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Michigan with a 24-under-par total, to win by three shots from Jim Furyk.