Payne Stewart, who skipped the Heritage Classic for four straight seasons before coming back this

Payne Stewart, who skipped the Heritage Classic for four straight seasons before coming back this year, plans to be back next year.

After all, he'll be the defending champion."Oh yeah, I'll be back," he said. "It's a great thing about winning; you always want to come back and defend your title because you are the only defending champion that week."

Stewart, who either led or shared the lead through all four rounds, won the Heritage in Hilton Head Island, S.C., going away with a 16-under-par 268, which broke the tournament record of 270 set by Tom Watson in 1979 and matched by Nick Faldo in 1984.

Stewart pocketed $144,000 for the victory on Sunday, his fourth in his PGA career that began in 1981. It was also his first victory since the 1987 Bay Hill Classic.

"I don't know what to say," Stewart told reporters after his victory. "I feel great. It's a feeling I haven't had since Bay Hill.

"I played some of the best golf I can remember playing for 72 holes. I drove the ball well and I played within myself."

The 32-year-old Stewart maintained at least a 3-stroke lead throughout the final round at the Harbour Town Golf Links. But he never let up, and he virtually clinched the victory with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole. That gave him a 5-shot lead with three holes to play.

Kenny Perry, who had never finished higher than fourth in his three-year PGA career, was second at 273 after shooting a final-round, even-par 71 on the 6,657-yard course. Perry won $86,400. Fred Couples, with a 65 on Sunday, tied Bernhard Langer for third at 277. Langer, a former Heritage champion, had a final-round 71.

Three players tied for fifth at 278 - Lanny Wadkins, Craig Stadler and Kenny Knox. Knox did not really get close to winning but set an all-time PGA Tour putting record. He used only 93 putts on Harbour Town's tiny greens, eclipsing by one stroke the record for 72 holes, set by George Archer on this course in 1980.

Stewart, now eighth on the money-winning list with $306,710, shared the lead with Perry over the first two rounds, then pulled away to a 3-stroke advantage when third-round play was halted by darkness Saturday night after a 31/2-hour rain delay.

***

"I'm back," Pat Bradley proclaimed.

One of the LPGA's most dominant players over the last decade, Bradley was beset by a health problem and a grave personal loss during the past couple of years, and by the self-doubt that goes with failure.

"It's ironic, but last year just after this tournament was when I diagnosed (with hyperthyroidism, an imbalance in the thyroid gland)," Bradley said. "My fight to come back began."

Bradley, who hadn't won a tournament in two years, made it back to the top Sunday when she shot a closing 5-under-par 67 to win the $450,000 Ai Star-Centinela Hospital Classic in Los Angeles by one stroke over Nancy Lopez and Hollis Stacy.

Bradley said she hit a professional low at this tournament last year.

"I missed the cut," she recalled. "I sneaked out of here, didn't want anybody to see me.

"And here I am a year later on the top of the world again."

Bradley finished the 54-hole tournament at 8-under-par 208. Lopez, the defending champion, shot a final-round 69 and Stacy had a 68.

The LPGA's career earnings leader, Bradley collected $67,500 for the victory, making her the first player in the tour's history to top $2.5 million in career earnings.

***

Don Bies has new drivers, new irons, a new putter and a new attitude. He credits all of them for his second straight victory on the Senior PGA Tour.

Bies shot a bogey-free final round of 6-under-par 66 on Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz., to beat Gary Player by one shot and capture The Tradition, a new $600,000 tournament.

It was the fourth career tour title and second this month for the 51-year-old Bies. He won the Murata Seniors Reunion on April 2.

"It's hard to believe, isn't it?" Bies said. "I'm on a hot streak, I guess. I hope it continues. We'll have to see how long it lasts, if I can keep it going. It's been going good lately."

Bies, who won only one tournament (1975 Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open) and $538,209 in 12 years on the PGA Tour, pocketed the biggest paycheck of his professional career - $90,000.

It pushed his combined career earnings past the $1 million mark at $1,011,372.

Not bad for someone who almost quit the game in 1980.

"I had a seven- to eight-year break from the tour. It helped me to get away and spend time with my family (in Seattle)," the soft-spoken Bies said. "I have more enthusiasm now and I'm enjoying things more."

Joining the Seniors Tour in 1988, Bies had four straight top 10 finishes, then won the Norville Invitational on June 19 and the GTE Kaanapali Classic on Dec. 4.

He picked up some new drivers, irons and a 46-inch Orville Moody-brand putter last March and has been hot ever since.

Harold Henning was at 10-under after 12 holes but bogeyed the next three to fall out of contention for his third career title. He birdied 18 for a final-round 70 and third place with a 280 total.