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Trish Johnson Rides Career-Low 64 To Victory

September 29, 1996

CORNELIUS, N.C. (AP) _ One week later, Trish Johnson turned the tables on Dottie Pepper, and this time it wasn’t about international pride. It was about $75,000.

Four strokes behind Pepper at the start of Sunday’s final round of the Fieldcrest Cannon Classic, Johnson shot a career-low 8-under-par 64 and won the $500,000 event by three shots.

``I don’t know where it came from, really _ the best round of golf in my life,″ said Johnson, who one week earlier was part of the losing European team that couldn’t hold off the U.S. squad on the final day of the Solheim Cup competition. The Americans rallied for the victory by losing just one of the day’s 12 singles matches. Included in that total was the match in which Johnson built a 1-up lead on Pepper at the turn, only to lose 3 and 2.

This time, there was no such suspense. Johnson, a native of Bristol, England, who currently resides in London, birdied two of her first three holes on the way to a bogey-free final round that was two strokes lower than her previous best score in nine years on the LPGA tour.

``I’d swap this in a heartbeat to have won last week,″ Johnson said. ``But it’s very nice. It’s very satisfying, to say the least.″

Johnson’s final-round score was one stroke lower than the course record at the Peninsula Club, which was in its second year holding the tournament. Her winning score of 18-under 270 also was three shots better than the total posted by 1995 champion Gail Graham on the 6,318-yard layout along the shores of Lake Norman.

Finishing second after closing with a 4-under 68 was Kim Saiki, a winless 30-year-old pro who continues to enjoy what is easily her best year. Saiki, who had never finished better than 93rd on the money list, has two seconds and a sixth this season. Her winnings Sunday of $46,546 boosted her 1996 total to $160,532, putting her in good position to qualify for the LPGA Championship, the lucrative season-ending event reserved for the top 30 money-winners.

``That sounds great. That’s my goal,″ Saiki said. ``I did pretty good. I can’t complain.″

Pepper, bidding for her fifth victory in her last nine LPGA tour events, had three birdies and two bogeys in a 71 that left her alone in third at 274.

``It started on the very first hole. I was in between clubs, it seemed, all day long _ and didn’t make the right choice too often,″ Pepper said. ``Physically I don’t feel too bad, but my brain is tired.″

The victory was the third on the LPGA tour for Johnson but her first since she won on consecutive weekends in the spring of 1993. She has been playing well lately, as evidenced by her victory in the European Women’s Open on Sept. 8.

On the U.S. tour, however, she had just two sub-70 rounds in 1996 coming into the Peninsula Club. Johnson flew in from London on Wednesday and did not get to play or even see the course before she teed off Thursday. Undaunted, she opened with a 67 and followed it with a 71 and a 68 before Sunday’s gem.

``Didn’t miss a fairway. Didn’t miss a green,″ she said. ``I didn’t miss a thing, so obviously, I’m delighted.″

Two of her eight birdies came on par-5s that she reached in two and two-putted. Of the other six birdies, one was from 20 feet and the rest were from six feet or less.

The key, Johnson said, was a fast start that featured birdies on the first and third holes, both from six feet.

``I was there straightaway,″ she said. ``I wasn’t fighting to get up there. It was nice to get off to a good jump like that.″

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