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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday at Pinehurst Belonged to Michelle Wie

Michelle Wie teeing off Sunday at the US Women's Open.  Photo credit: USGA
The 69th playing of the US Women's Open has taken its place in golfing history.  It's an Open that belongs now to twenty-four year old Michelle Wie, once a teen phenom who labored at her craft for a full decade in order to achieve the Sunday afternoon pinnacle victory.  It was a well-played and truly-earned win.

Michelle Wie: US Women's Open Champion

It almost didn't happen for Wie, who was making her 11th US Women's Open appearance this year.  She flirted with the lead throughout the last three rounds -- for a time it looked as though we might be treated to a Wie-Thompson replay of Sunday at the Kraft Nabisco -- and teed off Sunday afternoon to a packed and cheering gallery.  Yet this was no Martin Kaymer runaway win.  Wie began the fourth round sharing the lead with Amy Yang, but Yang fell back even as Stacy Lewis started coming up the board.  By the back nine Wie was playing with a comfortable three stroke lead over the field.  Then, on the 16th hole, with three holes between her and victory, Wie slammed her tee shot on 16 into a nasty natural area adjacent a bunker.

Michelle Wie reacts to her birdie on 17,
Sunday at the US Women's Open
An army of officials joined the players and caddies, searching on the clock for Wie's ball, with fans from the gallery shouting directional clues.  Suddenly Wie was faced with a lost ball penalty.  The ball, finally located within the five minute limit deep in a big tuft of wire grass, presented another dilemma -- play it as it lies and risk more trouble or take an unplayable lie and a penalty stroke?  Wie chose the latter option, backed up a bit to get a good shot, chipped badly, and ended 16 with a double bogey, her comfortable three-stroke lead cut to one thin shot.

Stacy Lewis, who set the pace for the Open and took the lead with an "easy" first round on Thursday, then dropped down the board on Friday and even further on Saturday, got her putter going again on Sunday and climbed steadily back up to even par, finishing her round trailing Wie by three strokes until Wie's 16th hole fiasco.  When Wie doubled Lewis went to the practice range and started limbering up for a playoff that didn't come.  Wie recovered her composure and, wielding her clubs with icy focus, birdied 17, parred 18, and claimed the victory.

Stacy Lewis, who settled for runner-up, still leads in the year-long Race to the CME Globe and stays on the top of the world rankings.  Sixteen-year old Canadian Brooke Mackenzie Henderson claimed low amateur honors.  Juli Inkster, who finished in a tie for 15th place, will celebrate her 54th birthday next week and be joining the retired champions.  And Stephanie Meadow, who turned pro on last Wednesday, the day before she played her first round at the Open, finished in solo third place and is anticipating a bright future.

Stretching Boundaries & Breaking Records

While Wie's win is a sweet professional achievement as well as the main sportswriters' and bloggers' Monday morning headline, it's by no means the only storyline that will define this record-breaking, precedent-setting Championship.  There's more to be seen just beyond the top of the leaderboard that deepens the central meaning of Open, but that's the grist for another post on another day.