-- Patricia Meunier-Lebouc struggled through the opening 12 holes of today's final round of the Nabisco Championship, with her three-shot lead over Annika Sorenstam evaporating.

But everything changed when Sorenstam sank a birdie putt to take a one-shot lead.

"I looked at it and said, 'Hey, now what?' " Meunier-Lebouc said. "Now I'm going to play golf maybe. Suddenly, I found my attitude from the first two days and kept it to the end."

Meunier-Lebouc regained the lead when she birdied 13 and Sorenstam bogeyed the hole, went up by two when the pattern repeated on 14 and hung on for a one-shot victory in the LPGA's first major of the season.

"She played really well all week," Sorenstam said. "I played with her all four days. It didn't seem like she changed her approach to the game at all. It looked like she was aggressive all week."

Meunier-Lebouc fired a 1-over-par 73 at Mission Hills Country Club to finish at 7-under 281, for her first major championship and the first by any Frenchwoman since Catherine LaCoste won the U.S. Women's Open in 1967.

Sorenstam was trying to become the first LPGA player in the modern era to win a major tournament three consecutive years. (Patty Berg had won the Titleholders Championship, then a major, as an amateur from 1937 to '39.) Meunier-Lebouc said she thought of the plight of fellow Frenchman Jean Van de Velde in the 1999 British Open, before her putt for a birdie on the 17th would have given her a three-shot lead entering the final hole.

"I didn't make it, so maybe it was good I didn't make it," said Meunier-Lebouc, who received $240,000 for her victory in her first appearance in the $1.6 million tournament.

Van de Velde had a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie, only to take a triple bogey and then lose a playoff to Paul Lawrie.

Meunier-Lebouc and Sorenstam each put their tee shots into a bunker on 18, with Sorenstam missing a chance for a tie with a bogey as Meunier-Lebouc three-putted for a double-bogey.

Meantime, 13-year-old Michelle Wie, who began the round in third place four shots behind Meunier-Lebouc, remained in third through 11 holes -- four shots behind Meunier-Lebouc and Sorenstam -- then bogeyed four of the next five holes, finishing in a tie for ninth with an even-par 288.

A gregarious and hard-working 30-year-old, Meunier-Lebouc turned professional in 1994, winning the 1994 English Open, 1997 Irish Open and 1998 Air France Open. She joined the LPGA Tour in 2001, recording her first victory in last year's State Farm Classic.

Moving to the United States was difficult and required sacrifices for Meunier-Lebouc and her husband, Antoine Lebouc, a former golf professional who quit playing to devote himself to helping his wife's career.

"We left family behind. We don't know the country; we don't know anything," Meunier-Lebouc said. "We've been spending two months during the winter doing all the paperwork, [getting a] visa, buying a house. It's been really two months like a nightmare, not playing golf, because we were too occupied. And suddenly I make it. And it's just wonderful. It just gives me even more motivation to work."

Following the victory, Meunier-Lebouc was carried into the lake surrounding the 18th hole by her husband for the traditional leap into the lake, joined by her caddie, Jo Berry.

"We are a team," Meunier-Lebouc said. "It's an individual sport, but I could not make it without them. This moment had to be shared."

After Annika Sorenstam took the lead, Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, above, said: "I found my attitude from the first two days and kept it to the end."