Rosie Jones had forecasted before setting out to defend her final-day lead at the LPGA Championship that someone would craft a sizzling fourth round to challenge her. Someone would shoot 66, she predicted. Almost everyone at the Bethesda Country Club knew Beth Daniel was the prime candidate for such a feat. Jones also insisted defiantly that only this menacing course could beat her -- no matter what any other player did.

Rarely has a prophecy been more painfully accurate, even if it was somewhat incomplete. Daniel, the course and crumbling confidence -- something Jones did not forsee -- were equal partners yesterday in her undoing. Daniel fired a 5-under-par 66 to overcome a five-shot deficit and claim the first major championship of an 11-year career that already included nearly every other mantle of greatness.

Jones too was seeking her first major, and began the day with a two-shot advantage over Cathy Johnston, only to uncharacteristically scramble to a 72. Yet she had a 40-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to force a playoff, but it lipped out after she had begun a celebratory jig.

Jones tapped in dejectedly for par, leaving her at 3-under 281, one shot behind Daniel, who took home the $150,000 winner's share of the LPGA record $1 million purse. They were the only players to finish below par, and all that separated them was a discrepancy in fortune perhaps best illustrated by Daniel's birdie putt at No. 6: It rolled into a cup that had been widened earlier in the day when the flag stick pushed against the side of the hole as it was pulled out.

"That's the kind of day it was for me," Daniel said. "I could do no wrong." And nothing could go wrong for her: Watching Jones's putt at the 18th from a television tower, Daniel was certain the ball was going in the hole.

"She hit as good a putt as she could hit," said Daniel, who had given Jones the opportunity to tie by bogeying No. 18. "I thought she made it. When they showed the replay, I still thought she made it."

Jones certainly was of the same mindset. Three rounds of virtually flawless play had given way to some wildness in a two-birdie, three-bogey outing. She had seen herself be overtaken -- tracing Daniel's onslaught by the leader board -- then had been disheartened as she fell two strokes behind approaching the final few holes.

But Daniel's misfortune at the 18th invigorated Jones, and she recovered from a nervously struck birdie putt on No. 17 to save par with a five-footer. Jones's tee shot at the final hole left her in the rough, but she excavated herself with a 5-wood approach from 180 yards that dropped on the green below the hole and gave her at least a chance.

It was a difficult putt, not just for its length but also for the rising slope en route to the hole. Jones had struggled with her putting this week, but was satisfied with this stroke. The ball had the look of something miraculous as it rolled in a smooth arc toward the cup; as it neared, Jones began to leap in an ecstatic response to the hopeful roar of the gallery and anticipatory fist-pumping of her caddie.

But the ball rolled over the cup, striking the far edge and circling the hole for a quarter-turn before slowing to a stop a tantalizing foot away. Jones leaped in frustration and dismay this time, composing herself quickly to flash a smile and acknowledge the cheers with a wave.

But she remained flustered afterward, her somber mood in stark contrast to the engaging, witty demeanor she normally displays even under trying circumstances. "I could hit 100 putts and I don't think I could do that again," Jones said. "Did you guys see it? It was in. I mean, it was in. That's tough.

"I'll remember that putt for the rest of my life. . . . That's the worst way to lose."

Yet it was a fitting finale to a tournament that became a final-round duel between two of the tour's best players never to win a major. The steady, accurate Jones and the supremely gifted Daniel quickly left the rest of the field faltering on the other side of par as Daniel -- playing three groups ahead -- surged and Jones tried to answer.

Daniel began in a group of five players at 1 over, with five others between her and Jones. But she was the one the leaders feared most, for she was the player most capable of conquering the course's debilitating rough and minuscule, slick greens.

Daniel possesses one of the purest swings and most impressive all-around games on the tour. She won the Greater Washington Open on this course last year, beginning a run in which she captured seven tournaments in 12 months -- that on the heels of a four-year winless drought.

That Daniel never had won a major baffled most of her peers. She had been close many times, having enjoyed final-round leads at several. But the breakthrough never had come, and that alone was enough to frighten her competitors.

"I admire Beth Daniel's game," said Jones. "She's got one of the best swings out here. She's got a lot of guts, and she's not afraid to show it.

"She's a lot like {1989 player of the year} Betsy King. Betsy King or Beth Daniel, when they turn on, they're scary."

Daniel was energized from the start, gaining birdies on the first two holes before Jones teed off. Daniel then birdied No. 3 to move to 2 under after a 6-iron approach to six feet, and the race was on.

"I didn't feel like {Jones's lead} was that insurmountable," Daniel said. "I knew I had to start out quickly to put some pressure on her, and I did. I had to keep charging. . . . I had to be as aggressive as I could."

Daniel played the first 13 holes in 6 under, birdieing par-5s at Nos. 12 and 13 to lead for the first time. Meanwhile, Jones was struggling. She began the day with 43 pars and nine birdies -- plus a bogey and quadruple bogey, both at the dreaded 16th hole. She had played No. 16 in 5 over, the rest of the course in 9 under; she had been below par each day with a nearly ceaseless stream of error-free golf.

Jones birdied No. 2 to move to 5 under and keep Daniel at bay temporarily, but it was clear she was not the same player she had been for three rounds. Jones scurried to save par four times in the first seven holes, then bogeyed the par-3 eighth hole after missing a four-footer.

She had conceded all week that she's a better come-from-behind player than front-runner, and nerves began to plague her. "I kind of beat myself," Jones said. "I didn't handle my jar of negative thoughts very well. I couldn't keep the cap on; they kept spilling out.

"Maybe I just didn't mentally prepare myself well enough for a final day. . . . I played an average round, and I needed something a little more solid."

Jones also has been on the fringe of the game's elite. She has finished second at each major, including a one-stroke loss to Hollis Stacy at the 1984 U.S. Women's Open when she bogeyed the final hole. She's winless on the tour in two years, and has been through a year of adjustments that has included changing coaches and clubs.

"I'll probably learn something," Jones said. " . . . I'll be better next time, and eventually I'm going to win one of these."

Daniel's lead grew to two shots when Jones bogeyed 14, but Daniel -- after glancing at the leader board for the first time at No. 17 -- grew tentative on the final two holes and opened the door. Jones was a fraction of an inch from squeezing through.

"I feel bad for Rosie in a sense because she played some great golf," Daniel said. "But I'm pretty thrilled for myself. . . . I think in order to be considered a great player, you have to win major championships. Now I have."