Stanford wins LPGA title at ShopRite

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. Annika Sorenstam drew the crowds, Michelle Wie got the publicity but Angela Stanford took her first LPGA victory.

Playing before a gallery of only about 60 people for much of the day, Stanford shot a 6-under par 65 Sunday to win the ShopRite LPGA Classic. Stanford finished at 16-under par, three shots ahead of late-surging Becky Morgan.

And she didn't mind all the attention going elsewhere.

''It doesn't bother me,'' the 25-year-old Stanford said. ''I think you earn people's respect. I have respect for those players and I think it's awesome that fans come out and watch their favorite players.

''Hopefully, one day, I'll be their favorite player here. I respect that and I understand that and I know I have to earn that, and that's fine. I wouldn't want it any other way.''

Stanford, of Saginaw, Texas, is in her third year on tour but had never won an event. Her best finish last year was second.

Sorenstam, who came into the final round four shots off the pace, was unable to mount a challenge, finishing with a 72. She and the 13-year-old Wie drew the biggest crowds in the ShopRite, and Wie also shot a 72 Sunday to finish at 2 over.

''I believe if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best,'' Stanford said.

She did and then some, besting a 144-player field that included former winners Sorenstam and Juli Inkster, as well as Wie.

Stanford, a four-time all-American at Texas Christian University, shared the opening-round lead with Laura Diaz and Kris Lindstrom, but moved out to a one-shot lead heading into the final round.

And she may have saved her best for last. Starting the round at 10 under, she picked up four strokes on the first three holes, sinking a tricky 5-foot downhill putt on No. 1, a 30-footer for birdie at No. 2 and making eagle on the par-5, 475-yard third hole.

Then, with Morgan and Lorie Kane charging up the leaderboard, Stanford carded 12 consecutive pars before sealing her victory with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17.

Even when she got in trouble, she stayed calm. On No. 5, a 302-yard par-4, she hit into a sand trap but still managed to save par after hitting a nifty wedge.

''I noticed toward the end that they were creeping up on me,'' Stanford said. ''I thought 'Hmm, maybe I should get back to playing one shot at a time.''

After her final putt, she raised her hands, looked to the sky and then hugged her caddie before trotting over to the bleachers surrounding No. 18 and jubilantly throwing her ball into the cheering crowd at the Seaview Marriott Resort.

She said she didn't expect to win so early in her pro career, but realized early in Sunday's round that that's what she was headed for. She was so excited at the opportunity to play for the title, she cried on the first tee.

The emotional turmoil didn't last long as she shot birdie-birdie-eagle to start, the 30-footer providing a boost.

''I figured I make par here, easy par, and go on. That ball, it was like it had a magnet. It stayed on line and curved right into the hole. At that point, I knew. I felt like it was a special day, but I didn't want to get ahead of myself,'' Stanford said.

Her purse was $195,000 in the $1.3 million event, vaulting her from 46th on the LPGA money list to 14th.

Morgan, who was playing ahead of Stanford, birdied three of her last four holes to finish at 13 under.

Kane, who shot a 66 Sunday, finished four strokes back, as did two-time Classic champion Inkster.

Wie, who last weekend become the youngest winner of a USGA event for adults when she captured the U.S. Amateur Women's Public Links, was disappointed with her performance.

''I think I played terrible, for me,'' Wie said. ''I guess I should have made a lot more birdies. I should have hit my fairways. I should have hit my wedges better.''

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