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Published: Sunday, 8/8/2004

Stupples up by 3

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Karen Stupples thinks a victory today would put her among the elite players on the tour. Karen Stupples thinks a victory today would put her among the elite players on the tour.
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Marilyn Lovander didn't become a professional golfer until age 30 and now, 19 years later, she figures that most of the players she competes against on the LPGA Tour are "not only young enough to be my daughter but are encroaching on being granddaughter age."

Karen Stupples might qualify for daughter status at age 31, but it will be no low-key, mother-daughter outing today when she and Lovander tangle in the lead group during the final round of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

Stupples, less than a week removed from winning her first major championship at the Women's British Open, owns a three-shot lead over Lovander. Meg Mallon and Jeong Jang open play today another stroke behind.

Stupples feels she has taken her game to a new level and is poised to take a giant step by posting back-to-back wins.

Lovander, who could become the oldest winner in LPGA Tour history, owns more modest goals.

"I don't care what age it comes at, being a winner would be wonderful," she said. "I've worked my whole life to be a has-been instead of a never-was."

Lovander will likely be a crowd favorite at Highland Meadows as she shoots for a slice of history at the age of 49 years, 5 months and 30 days.

Beth Daniel became the tour's oldest winner at last year's

Canadian Open at 46 years, 8 months, 29 days. The oldest first-time winner in LPGA history was Fay Crocker - 40 years, 6 months, 18 days - at the 1955 Serbin Open.

Karen Stupples tries to use some body English to coax her golf ball into the hole at the 14th hold. She leads by three shots. Karen Stupples tries to use some body English to coax her golf ball into the hole at the 14th hold. She leads by three shots.
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Lovander has a history replete with success on the Futures Tour and in LPGA Seniors events, but has never finished higher than a tie for 10th in 162 previous LPGA tournaments.

Stupples, meanwhile, is seeking her third win of the year and a Farr winner's check that would bump her 2004 earnings to nearly $900,000.

She shot a bogey-free 68 yesterday and rests at 8-under 205 after 54 holes.

"This is, without a shadow of doubt, the best three weeks of golf I've ever played," said Stupples, who finished fourth in the Evian Masters a week before winning the British Open. "I feel fantastic. I don't want it to ever end."

Stupples didn't shy away when asked if she felt she was poised to become one of the LPGA's marquee players.

"Absolutely. I feel like my game is at a totally different level right now. I don't have to take on stupid shots or try to do something outrageous. I just play my game and know it's good enough. It's taken me a long time to get there and I really think I'm on the verge of taking that next big step forward."

Stupples hit 12 of 14 fairways [excluding par-3 holes] and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. Her three birdies came on putts ranging from 10 to 20 feet.

"I hit so many greens today and that makes scoring so much easier," she said.

Lovander hit few greens early in her round, but kept herself in the picture with a deft short game before catching fire in the middle of the round and getting to 7-under. She faltered at the end, though, with consecutive bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17.

"I made a lot of pars I probably didn't deserve, a lot of up-and-downs, so it was bound to catch up with me," said Lovander, who carded a 69 for a 5-under 208 total.

Mallon managed to stay in the fray despite a 3-over 74 that was the result of too many missed fairways [seven of 14] and too many missed greens.

"I just can't figure out the rough," Mallon said. "It's so long it's laying flat and the ball sits on it like an egg in a nest. If you set your club behind the ball you can see it wobble and if the ball moves it's a penalty. So you have to set your club way back, which makes it very tough to hit a flop shot. The grass is just laying there, going against you, and it's under the ball.

"I guess the bottom line is you'd better not miss greens. If the rough doesn't get you the firmness of the greens will. They're just not holding."

Mallon is tied with Jang, a Korean who almost never misses fairways and greens and who checked in with a 68 yesterday.

The day's lowest round was 67, one of them being shot by Lorie Kane, who moved into a tie for fifth at 3-under 210 with defending champion Se Ri Pak [72], Karrie Webb [73], ex-champion Brandie Burton [74], Nancy Scranton [69], Leta Lindley [71], and hot young talent Lorena Ochoa, who had a 69.

"That could have really been low," Ochoa said. "I was in between clubs a lot, but my game was much better and I burned the edges all day. Maybe I'll get it low tomorrow. I'd like to post a number and then wait it out."

Mallon, however, doubted that Stupples would give much ground today.

"Karen is playing with a lot of confidence and it's going to be hard to catch her," Mallon said.

Stupples, though, is expecting a fight and wouldn't be surprised if it came from her playing partner.

"I should think Marilyn will be pretty excited and very motivated," Stupples said of Lovander. "Hopefully, she'll enjoy the moment. How old is she, 49? Well, more power to her. It's fantastic to see."

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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