It's Not a Mirage: Bowen Wins as Leaders Collapse


As expected, Nanci won the Nabisco Dinah Shore.

Not Nancy Lopez, Nanci Bowen.

Meanwhile, the water around the 18th green at Mission Hills flows backward.

The first major women's golf title of the year wound up somewhere that nobody expected Sunday when it was all but placed as a gift in Bowen's golf bag.

And just who is this Nanci Bowen?

She is a 27-year-old close-to-nobody from Georgia who hadn't won a tournament in four years on the LPGA Tour, who had to go back to qualifying school two years ago, who hadn't played the Mission Hills course until this week.

"I'm kind of overwhelmed right now," Bowen said. "It's certainly the highlight of my career."

To prove it, Bowen listed the next biggest highlight of her career as the time she passed qualifying school on her second try.

After finishing her final round of two-under-par 70 with a bogey on the last hole, all Bowen had to do was wait for Lopez and Tammie Green to throw themselves on their irons one more time or to get lost in the trees or the bunkers.

Then Bowen got to collect her check for $127,500, then go jump in the lake.

It's become a ritual for the Dinah Shore champion to hop in the lake that surrounds the 18th green, but most people assumed it would not be Bowen but Lopez or Green or Laura Davies who would get all wet.

Most people were wrong. Susie Redman shot a 71 and finished second at 286, two-under and one shot behind Bowen, who watched the bigger names in front of her fall apart, one by one.

Lopez faltered badly down the stretch. She had a three-shot lead with five holes left, but bogeyed four of them, finding the water on 18, and finished tied for third after shooting a 74.

Lopez picked the bogeys out of the police lineup.

"That's what killed me," she said. "You just can't do that, ever."

Green's demise didn't begin until the first hole, which she bogeyed. She also bogeyed the second. She started the day with a two-shot lead, but finished bogey, double-bogey on her way to a 77 that dropped her into a tie for seventh.

"It was a strange turn of events, to say the least," Green said. "I'm a little frustrated by the way I finished, but what can I say?"

What, indeed? Her 18th hole pretty much said it all. She found a fairway bunker with her second shot and embedded the ball in the grass just outside of the bunker with her third shot.

Green punched the ball out to the fairway, got to the green in five and two-putted for an ugly seven.

She later said she was happy for Bowen, but as sorry for Lopez as she was for herself.

"Nancy's a great player, and you don't expect to see what happened happen," Green said.

Davies was three-over on the front nine and scrambled back to a 73, but was never in contention. For a footnote, she did reach the green of the 526-yard 18th hole in two, but three-putted and finished in the tie for third with Lopez, Brandie Burton and Sherri Turner.

Somehow, the day wound up belonging to Bowen, which was something of a surprise, even to her, since she didn't know she had the lead until she accidentally saw a scoreboard while leaving the 18th tee.

It was an adventure getting home, as it turned out. Bowen drove under the trees, and when she tried to punch the ball out, she hit the same tree. The ball fell like a rock 10 feet in front of her.

Bowen wound up two-putting from 20 feet for a bogey, which was just good enough. She had taken the lead from Lopez on the par-three 17th when she knocked a five-iron within 20 feet of the hole and rolled it in.

Not hearing much cheering from the fans following Lopez, Davies and Green in front of her, Bowen figured she was in pretty good shape, even if she didn't know how good.

"I was trying to stay in my little world," she said.

It has been a pretty small golf world up to now. She had played only five other majors and her best finish was a tie for 17th in the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

A four-time Georgia girls junior champion, Bowen won two mini-tour events in 1993 after she had lost her LPGA card.

Bowen does not have a sponsor, but she does have a nice check, which nearly doubled her career earnings to $267,766.

Lopez could have changed all that, but hey, that's golf.

"It's a shame Tammie and I kind of fell apart there," Lopez said. "I like to have someone make a charge. If it couldn't have been me, then Tammie would have been good. Anything to make Nanci sweat a little bit."

Bowen wasn't sweating much. Three-under par after the first round, Bowen won by shooting par the last three rounds. Her 72-hole total of 285 is the highest winning score in 18 years and third-highest in the 24 years of the tournament.

But who's counting? Bowen doesn't care about any numbers except the ones on her paycheck.

"I'm very exciting," she said. "Right now, it feels pretty good."

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