Beth Daniel shared a car ride with three-time LPGA Championship winner Nancy Lopez earlier this week, and the conversation turned to career accomplishments and Hall of Fame credentials. Lopez asked how many major titles the gifted, 33-year-old Daniel had won, and was shocked to learn the answer was zero.

"She couldn't believe it," Daniel said yesterday after reversing that situation, overcoming a five-shot, final-round deficit to beat Rosie Jones by one stroke in the LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club.

Daniel, Jones and Ayako Okamoto were perhaps the tour's best players never to have won a major. Daniel had been close many times, holding final-round leads at the U.S. Women's Open, Dinah Shore and du Maurier Classic. She had dueled Pat Bradley head to head on the last day of the 1981 Open, losing by a stroke despite a round of 69 when her pitch shot on the final hole hung on the lip of the cup.

"I was preparing myself" for another disappointment yesterday, Daniel said. She had given Jones hope with an 18th-hole bogey, but Jones's bid to tie with a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole lipped out. Daniel was on the air with NBC when she won, conceding later she probably made a mistake in so doing because she likely would have had trouble regaining her concentration for a playoff.

But she avoided extra play, and her eighth victory in the past year has elevated her a few notches in the game's hierarchy. "I think in order to be considered a great player, you have to win major championships," Daniel said.

That she never had done so before perplexed many tour members. "She's certainly good enough," Bradley said earlier this week. "It just takes a few breaks. There's only four {majors} in a year, so you have to be lucky enough to be playing your best golf that particular week on a tough course -- and be lucky enough that some other people aren't playing their best golf too."

Daniel's best golf has come in bewildering spurts during her 11-year pro career. When she joined the tour in 1979, she immediately became a force, with a smooth swing that combines power and accuracy and an easy demeanor that gives occasional glimpses of her Charleston, S.C., roots and hides some fierce inner combativeness.

She won 14 titles during her initial six years on the tour. But she stopped winning in 1986, the beginning of a four-year victory drought that included a bout with mononucleosis.

Daniel said she never doubted she'd win again, although she wasn't certain if she'd be a top 10 player again. But she won the Greater Washington Open on this course last summer -- one year after losing to Okamoto on the final hole at the same tournament -- and she hasn't looked back.

Still, she had a goal to win a major this year and this was her last chance to do it. She paraded nervously around the course yesterday, refusing to look at the leader board and telling caddie Greg Sheridan at the 15th hole she was almost too uptight to play.

"I have a tendency to put more pressure on myself than other people put on me," Daniel said. "The players are the ones who put so much pressure on themselves at majors. I finally after all these years figured that out."

Those years taught her patience, she said, and allowed her to appreciate what she accomplished yesterday. "It's big," she said.