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US Women's Open showcase for underdogs; Horner's homers

Of all the titles in women's golf, the most coveted is that won at the United States Open, which begins today in Kettering, Ohio. The Open, now in its 41st year, ranks as the oldest and most easily identifiable of the big four tournaments, the others being the LPGA Championships, the Nabisco Dinah Shore, and the du Maurier Classic in Canada.

In recent years, the Open has earned an additional distinction as a tournament of the underdog. Little-known Kathy Ba ker won last year, and before her Janet Anderson in 1982 and Jerilyn Britz in 1979.

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Baker, a fourth-year pro, may yet emerge as star. So far, though, the Open championship remains her only tour victory. Anderson, who joined the LPGA circuit in 1978, has never won again, and 13-year veteran Britz chalked up just one other title, in the 1980 Mary Kay Classic.

Winning the Open doesn't necessarily translate into lasting stardom, but it does allow a golfer to secure a place in the field, at least for the next decade. Baker, Britz, and Anderson, who had to withdraw from this year's event, were exempt from qualifying, as were the other winners from the last 10 years -- Hollis Stacy (1977, 1978, and 1984), Amy Alcott (1980), Pat Bradley (1981), and Jan Stephenson (1983).

Bradley, who is having a tremendous year, has won the Dinah Shore and LPGA titles, and needs victories in both the Open and the du Maurier Classic later this month to become the only player to claim a Grand Slam. She is already the only player to record victories in each of the big four, and now has a shot to hold these titles in the same calendar year.

``It would be a wonderful accomplishment,'' she said this week. ``I'm going to do my best to make it happen. I'm not going out with the idea that it's impossible, that it can't happen.''

Bradley's stiffest competition could come from Juli Inkster, the only other player to win three tournaments this year, or perhaps from Patty Sheehan and Mary Beth Zimmerman, who have two victories apiece.

Nancy Lopez, the 1985 Player of the Year, is home tending to her new daughter, but two other stars expected to be in the thick of things are Alcott, the winner of last week's Hall of Fame Championship, and Stacy, one of only four repeat winners in Open history. Other back-to-back champions were Mickey Wright (1958-59), Donna Caponi (1969-70), and Susie Berning (1972-73).

Form, of course, doesn't necessarily hold at this tournament, and a relatively obscure player might just spring another big surprise on Open watchers. The first two rounds, incidentally, will be carried by ESPN, with ABC supplying the weekend coverage, Saturday (2:30-4:30, EDT) and Sunday (3:30-6). Horner's home run spectacular

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Atlanta's Bob Horner, who once played the ``hot corner'' at third base, spent last Sunday feasting on the deliveries of Montreal's shellshocked pitchers. In five times to the plate, he smashed four home runs, equaling a single-game feat achieved by only 10 other players, the last being Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt in 1976. Schmidt did it in 10 innings, though, and the last hitter to slug four round-trippers in a regulation 9-inning game was Willie Mays in 1961.

The power display briefly catapulted the Braves' first baseman into a tie for the National League's home run lead, with 17. Houston's Glenn Davis, however, broke the deadlock with a two-homer game on Monday.

The irony of Horner's slugfest was that Atlanta lost the game 11-8, partly because there were so few on base when he drilled balls out of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a noted long-ball park. Three of his homers were solo shots; the other came with two aboard.

On the whole, this has been a sensational year for power hitters around the majors. The Sporting News reports that through each team's first 60 games, 120 more home runs had been hit than during the same period a year ago. The American League's designated hitters have improved their times-at-bat-to-home-run ratio from 26-to-1 to 22-to-1, and fans are showing up at games early just to watch Oakland rookie Jose Canseco's batting practice missiles.

The sudden surge of power has led to speculation that the ball may be livelier, a claim that Rawlings Sporting Goods, the official manufacturer, vehemently denies. Even so, some insiders aren't convinced. Said Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, who calls it T-N-T, ``If you take the ball to bed with you at night, it will keep you awake.'' Touching other bases

Of the results emerging from the Goodwill Games in Moscow, Sergei Bubka's world record pole vault of 19 ft. 8 in. is perhaps the most glamorous so far, Jackie Joyner's world mark in the heptathlon perhaps the least understood and appreciated. Joyner, with 7,148 points, became the first athlete to break the 7,000-point barrier in the heptathlon, a seven-event, two-day track and field competition that is the women's ``decathlon.'' A member of the 1984 Olympic team, she won the silver medal with 6,385 points at Los Angeles, as Australia's Glynis Nunn took the gold with 6,390. Sabine Paetz of East Germany held the previous record of 6,946. In Joyner's strongest event, the long jump, Jackie set a world heptathlon best of 23 feet in Moscow. The other events in this all-around test of athleticism are the 200-meter dash, 100-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, high jump, javelin, and shot put.

Though it was reported in this space last week that Stanford University was the undisputed king of the college sports hill, with four national championship teams, a Wisconsin rooter recently called to set the record straight. He pointed out that the Badgers swept the men's and women's rowing championships at the end of the school year. When these titles were added to earlier victories in men' and women's cross-country, Wisconsin joined Stanford as the campus of champions.

The National Basketball Association is increasingly taking a global perspective. The league is considering having two teams play their opening games next season in Japan, and discussions have been held to conduct a third-place playoff series in Italy at some date in the future.

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