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WOUNDED GOLFER PERSEVERES IN OHIO

Published: Saturday, July 9 1994 12:00 a.m. MDT

The whispers, in the polite surroundings of a golf course, were somehow louder than the popping sound she heard just before a bullet went into her neck.

"Isn't that the one who was shot?""Hey, that's Kim Williams . . . she's the one who got shot."

"See that woman in the yellow shorts? She was shot."

Williams heard the voices. She saw the cameras. She was aware of the attention she drew Friday afternoon at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic.

"It doesn't bother me," she said during the first round. "I understand."

What she understood was that the gallery's interest wasn't in a 31-year-old woman from Bethesda, Md., playing her sixth anonymous year on the LPGA Tour. What she understood was that she was an object of macabre curiosity. What she understood was that people just wanted to see The Victim.

Williams walked into a drugstore last Saturday night in Niles, Ohio, after playing part of a rain-interrupted second round of the Youngstown-Warren LPGA Classic. It was about 9 o'clock. She wanted to buy baby oil she uses to prevent her putter from rusting.

As she was about to enter the store, Williams felt something hit her neck. She collapsed and was flown to Cleveland for a surgery that never took place. Physicians decided to leave the 9mm bullet - which entered the left side of her neck - lodged on the right side near her clavicle.

She was, at first, thought to have been a random target of a drive-by shooting. Instead, according to recent theories, it seems the bullet was fired by a man using junk cars for target practice almost a mile from the store.

A small, red entry wound on Williams' neck is obvious. A slight bulge on the right side is visible when she turns her head at a certain angle.

This is a woman who has earned less than $200,000 in six seasons on the tour. She has never won. In fact, she lost her playing privileges for 1990 and '91 before working her way back. Life as a professional golfer has been a career-long scramble, and this year - 104th on the money list, five missed cuts and nothing higher than a tie for 26th - has been no different.

But it was different Friday.

Williams opened with a 3-under par 68 that left her two strokes off the lead. It matched her best score of the season and was forged in state of growing exhaustion in the heat of the day.

She began play on the back side and started with a three-putt for a double-bogey 6. But she rallied with four birdies against one other stumble (a bogey) before making the turn.

In the rising temperatures of the second nine, however, Williams began to labor.

She sought the shade under trees. She carried an umbrella to block the sun. Her caddy, Chris Birdseye, ran ahead for bottles of water. She wrapped herself in a wet towel. She sat on the edge of greens. She dropped ice down her back.

And she didn't make a bogey.

Williams rolled in 20-foot putt for birdie at the seventh hole (her 16th) and trudged to the bench on the next tee. Playing partners Nancy Rubin and Nicky LeRoux - attentive all day - asked if she wanted them to hit ahead of her despite the scoring order that gave Williams the honor.

"No, it might be against the rules," Williams said. "I'm OK . . . I'm just tired."

She then slashed a 9-iron to within eight feet of the cup and made the putt for another birdie. She then finished with a par and went from the card-signing tent to a first-aid station. She told an LPGA representative she felt "unbelievably graced to be alive."

She had said as much - "I'm blessed" - while playing.

But late in the round, she had turned to her caddy and said: "I really don't feel good at all . . . I feel so bad."

And her voice was barely more than one of those whispers.

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