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Persistent Piers Cashes in Last Chip

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven of the world’s best women golfers came to Oakmont Country Club on Tuesday for a miniature version of the Skins Game.

Or was it musical chairs?

The competition--called a shoot-out--was as simple as child’s play: the seven golfers played six holes. At the end of each hole, the high scorer dropped out. The last one remaining was the winner.

Simple. And, for Julie Piers, lucrative.

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Piers outlasted the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Emilee Klein to walk away with a $3,000 check for 1 1/2-hours’ work.

“You’re out there to have fun,” Piers said, shrugging. “It’s not that cutthroat.”

Easy for her to say. Second-place finisher Jane Geddes had a slightly different take.

“It’s fun but it’s also competitive,” Geddes said. “We’re all competitive by nature.”

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The shoot-out was first and foremost a promotional event, a prolonged photo opportunity meant to kick off three days’ worth of activities leading up to the start of the Los Angeles Women’s Championship on Friday. A two-day pro-am begins today.

About 100 spectators showed up to watch the afternoon event. Sorenstam, twice a U.S. Women’s Open champion and one of the tour’s brightest stars, found herself in trouble right away when her drive found the rough on Oakmont’s 10th hole. She and Brandie Burton bogeyed the par-4.

The two players faced each other in a sudden-death playoff, chipping from just off the green to see who could get closest to the cup. Burton holed her shot, leaving Sorenstam to grab a parting gift--it was a crystal picture frame--a check for $500 and wave goodbye.

“That was tough,” she said.

Oakmont is likely to give the pros more significant headaches later this week. The slightest mistakes can prove costly on the course’s tight fairways and touchy greens.

Val Skinner discovered as much on No. 11, missing a six-foot putt to drop out of the running. On the next hole, a 370-yard par-4, Burton hit her second shot into a bunker.

Another picture frame, another goodbye.

Meanwhile, Klein, whose parents are Oakmont members, basked in the crowd’s affections. Her every shot was greeted with cheers and cries of “Get on it” and “Stick it.”

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“That was great,” she said. “It’s always fun being the hometown favorite.”

Klein survived a chip-off on No. 16, beating Aki Takamura, a top pro from Japan who had birdied the first two holes of the shoot-out. Then Klein succumbed on No. 17, hitting her third shot into a bunker and missing a long putt for par. Piers and Geddes were left to battle it out on the final hole.

While all the competitors insisted they were merely looking to have fun, play proceeded in somber fashion. On a nearby fairway, other players conducted a youth clinic, drawing laughter from their audience. There were few smiles at the quiet shoot-out.

“It’s nice to play before the tournament and hit a few shots under pressure,” Geddes explained.

Coming down the 18th fairway, Geddes and Piers mirrored each other’s shots, both two-putting for a tie. Piers, who has earned $9,608 in three tournaments this year, broke the silence by calling to the crowd: “I think my putt was more beautiful. Who votes for me?”

Public opinion notwithstanding, the competition was decided by a final chip-off.

“Kind of anti-climactic, huh?” said Geddes, who lost by several feet, settling for a $2,000 second-place check. “Oh well, there’s money involved and that’s always nice.”

Julie Piers, above, chipped closest to the 18th hole in a playoff with Jane Geddes to win the $3,000 first prize in a promotional shoot-out at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale. Emilee Klein, right, of Studio City was eliminated after hitting into a bunker on the 17th.

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