Luck of the Irish stays with Gustafson

Sophie Gustafson poses with her trophy in front of Killeen Castle.

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LET

Sophie Gustafson birdied the 18th to win.

DUNSANY, Ireland – Sophie Gustafson continued her winning streak in Ireland by claiming her fourth Ladies Irish Open title on Sunday at Killeen Castle. The Swede enhanced her prospects of returning to the course next September as part of Europe’s Solheim Cup team.

The seven-time Solheim Cup player shot a final-round 66 to edge ahead of Norwegian Marianne Skarpnord and South Korean In-Kyung Kim. Gustafson, who won for the sixth time on Irish soil, finished at 12-under 204, while Skarpnord and Kim were a shot back at 205.

“I love Ireland,” said Gustafson, who won €75,000.

But she couldn’t put her finger on why she plays so well here.

“I don’t know. I think maybe it’s the people,” she said. “They are all very friendly and easygoing, and they have always been very supportive of me.”

This was her 24th individual win worldwide, as she continues her bid to make captain Alison Nicholas’ team to take on the United States in September 2011.

To overtake second-round leader Kim, Gustafson played a wedge from 130 yards to 10 feet at the par-4 18th, and then made her birdie putt to edge one shot clear.

Kim had a chance to enter a playoff, but her long birdie putt on 18 finished just below the hole. She shot 70. Skarpnord, twice a winner on tour, fired a 69.

When asked what she thought of the 2011 Solheim Cup venue, Gustafson said: “I think my win pretty much says it all . . . that I like it. I expect to play my way onto the team.”

Gustafson started the final round three shots adrift but picked up the pace after rolling in a short birdie on the par-4 ninth, which was playing the toughest hole on the course. She eagled the par-5 12th, where she hit a four-iron to 15 feet and then birdied holes 14 and 18.

There were seven potential European Solheim Cup team members in the top 11 and two American prospects. England’s Melissa Reid finished fourth at 10-under 206 after a final round of 66. Australian Katherine Hull fired a 64 to finish fifth (207).

Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, who made her Solheim Cup debut in 2009, finished sixth (208). Brittany Lang, who made her debut on the U.S. side in 2009, was a stroke back in seventh.

Helen Alfredsson of Sweden, who has made eight Solheim Cup appearances as a player and captained the losing European team in 2007, shot 67 to share eighth with two-time U.S. team member Brittany Lincicome, Sweden’s Linda Wessberg and Spain’s Azahara Munoz Guijarro.

Rebecca Coakley was the leading Irish player at T-17. Ireland’s Lisa Maguire, 15, tied for 40th to take the Philomena Garvey trophy as the leading amateur.

Gustafson also won the Irish Open in 1998 at Ballyliffin, 2000 at Faithlegg and 2003 at Killarney.

Ladies European Tour contributed to this report.

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