Inkster triumphs at U.S. Open
by Associated Press
WHEN THE GREATEST round in her Hall of Fame career was over and her second Open title was all but assured, she jogged up the hill next to the 18th green, slapping hands with a gallery that was caving in around her.
Some of them were at Prairie Dunes when Inkster, then a 20-year-old newlywed, won the first of her three straight U.S. Women?s Amateur titles.
Twenty-two years and two daughters later, she is just as tough, just as tenacious and still packs a short game that ranks among the best.
?This one was a lot tougher, but a lot more satisfying,? Inkster said after closing with a 4-under 66 for a two-stroke victory over Annika Sorenstam.
?The crowd was phenomenal, and I fed off that,? she said. ?To beat the best player in the world, you don?t get an opportunity to do that often. This is pretty sweet.?
Facing a two-stroke deficit against the most dominant player in her game, Inkster won the U.S. Women?s Open by matching the best closing round by a champion in the 57-year history of the championship.
?As far as the pressure and the conditions and what was at stake, I?d say it?s probably No. 1,? she said of her final round. ?It is right now.?
Even more impressive is that Inkster had been struggling with her swing all week, keeping alive her chances with grit and determination, not to mention a putter that she needed only 25 times each of the final two rounds.
?When Juli birdied the second hole, the look on her face ... I just knew Annika was going to have to shoot under par to win,? playing partner Shani Waugh said.
Sorenstam, already a winner in six of her first 12 events, finished with an even-par 70 and shot par or better all four rounds. It wasn?t enough.
?I did everything I could,? Sorenstam said. ?I think I played great golf. Juli played excellent. She really outplayed me. There was nothing I could do. I gave it all, and I?m happy about that.?
Inkster finished at 276 and earned $535,000, the largest payoff in women?s golf. She now has won seven majors, the most among active players.
?I hope I don?t wake up for a while,? she said. ?It was awesome.?
Sorenstam had a 2-under 278, a score that figured to win this Open. Her chances slipped away when she watched from the 15th tee box as Inkster made a 15-foot par putt, then dropped a 12-footer for birdie on 16 that rocked the prairie.
?My heart was pumping so hard,? Inkster said.
Sorenstam followed with two straight bogeys, and her fading hopes ended when she drove into the rough on No. 18.
Inkster also won the Women?s Open three years ago at Mississippi, and is the only American to win her national Open the last eight years.
She became the second-oldest player to win a major - Babe Zaharias was 43 when she won the Women?s Open in 1954. She also joined Zaharias as the only women to win two majors after turning 40.
?I think to win at any age is tough - 42 is just a little tougher,? she said.
Waugh shot a 72 and finished third at 283, while Raquel Carriedo was another stroke behind after a 66.
Sorenstam didn?t wear the shiny red shoes she had on at the Nabisco Championship when she won the first major of the year, but she did have a few other good-luck charms.
First, Tiger Woods left a message on her cell phone. ?Keep doing what you?re doing,? the Masters and U.S. Open champion said. ?Go out and win this thing.?
She also had a Japanese tattoo sticker on her left ankle that said, ?Believe.?
Inkster found her inspiration from an e-mail sent by 12-year-old daughter Hayley.
?Good luck, Mom. You can do it. You can beat Annika. Go for it.?
As if the Sunday pressure wasn?t enough, the heat index was 104 degrees as the last two groups set out for the final round at Prairie Dunes.
Inkster was up for the challenge. She stuffed her tee shot on the 142-yard second hole for birdie, saved par from in front of the green on No. 4 and then really brought the crowd to life by making a self-deprecating prediction come true.
?As much chipping as I?m doing, sooner or later I?m going to chip one in,? she had said Saturday evening after saving seven pars.
Sure enough, she chipped in from about 40 feet on No. 6. The cheers could be heard all the way back to the sixth tee, and Sorenstam realized she had a fight on her hands the rest of the afternoon.
Another loud roar followed.
Up ahead on the par-5 seventh, Inkster rolled in a 25-foot putt from just off the fringe. As the gallery rose in unison to watch it drop, Inkster thrust her fist toward them, then pulled it back toward her body.
The put Inkster at 3-under and in the lead for the first time.
Sorenstam was steady as ever, that rhythmic swing finding only fairways and greens. She needed to be a little bit better.
Sorenstam made her first birdie on No. 7 with a 12-foot putt, but gave back the shot - and the lead - by missing her first green short on the difficult eighth hole and failing to hole a 7-foot par putt.
She never caught Inkster the rest of the day, haunted by one loud roar after another that rocked Prairie Dunes.
The last two came on No. 15, when Inkster hit her approach on the 201-yard hole well left of the green, then chipped 15 feet by. Sorenstam birdied the 14th hole, and Inkster?s lead was down to one.
The putt was pure. The reaction was chaos.
Sorenstam sat on her bag from the tee watching, then left her tee shot in the short rough, chipped 4 feet by the hole and missed the par putt.
All that was left was a walk up the 18th green and another message for the kids.
?Momma?s bringing home the trophy.?