WILLIAMSBURG, Va.(AP) Cristie Kerr stood in the fairway on the par-5 15th hole knowing it was time to make her move. Calmed by a few deep breaths as part of her recent attention to mental training, she used her 3-wood to send the ball soaring toward the green.
“Come on, be right! Come on!” she pleaded as the ball headed toward the green, bounced on and then rolled slightly off the back, leaving her a puttable ball 45 feet from the hole.
From there, she made it look easy, two-putting for a birdie that lifted her out of a four-way tie for the lead and on the way to her second victory in the Michelob Ultra Open.
“I knew at the time where I stood, and I knew that that was a must,” she said of her decision to go for the green at No. 15 for the first time in four rounds at Kingsmill.
Kerr closed with a 1-under 70 to finish at 16-under 268. She opened with rounds of 69, 63 and 66. In-Kyung Kim was second at 14 under after a 71, and Song-Hee Kim (71) and Lindsey Wright (73) tied for third at 13 under.
The victory was Kerr’s 12th on tour, and her execution on the critical hole was the difference. Her birdie came just after leader Song-Hee Kim made double bogey at the difficult 16th, and when In-Kyung Kim and Wright followed shortly thereafter by also making bogeys, Kerr emerged as the player to beat from a four-way battle for the lead.
A testy 6-foot par putt at the par-4 16th and two uneventful pars later, Kerr was collecting the $330,000 winner’s check, and begging for the tournament to return next season.
All week long, it had been played under a dark cloud of speculation that Anheuser-Busch, which owns the resort and sponsors the event, will not renew its contract.
“I’ll bring a sponsor myself if I have to,” she joked in interviews later.
And why not?
Kerr, who also won in 2005, has earned nearly $1 million in the seven years that Kingsmill has been host to the event so popular among the players.
She also moved to the top of the money list with more than $700,000.
In-Kyung Kim, just 20 and seeking her second career victory, finished second when Wright bogeyed the last hole. Kim said weekend three-putts “really killed me in the end.”
Wright shared the third-round lead with Kerr.
“Unfortunately, I started a little too aggressive in my putting and made a couple of three-putts earlier on,” Wright said. “Otherwise, it might have been different at the turn.”
After making just one bogey in the first three rounds, Wright had five on Sunday.
Lorena Ochoa, whose 13-under total after two rounds was a tournament record, started the day five shots back, and a birdie on the first hole hinted that she might make a charge.
But the world’s top-ranked player followed with bogeys on three of her next four holes and faded to her second straight 74, leaving her 10th at 7 under. After making the turn at 14 under Saturday, she was 7 over the rest of the way.
Michelle Wie, who started the day 12 shots back, shot a 69 and wound up 11 behind.
Kerr, meanwhile, was steady but not spectacular with two birdies and only one bogey in her 70. Of the four players in contention with four holes left, she was the only one to finish under par, and said her new attention to her mental focus paid off in the tense final holes.
“I was surprised,” she said behind the green at the 72nd hole after rolling in her short putt to clinch it. “I was even calm at 18. I guess that mental training is paying off.”
Only two holes earlier, Kerr had missed a makable par putt at the par-3 13th, and when Wright followed by also making bogey, there was suddenly a four-way tie for the lead.
As the tension mounted, so did the mistakes by the leaders, all of whom failed to post the low numbers that dominated the first three days despite a sun-splashed but breezy Sunday.
Only half of the top 10 finishers shot under par, and none was better than 3 under.
“The course played a lot different. It played a lot tougher,” Kerr said, citing the still soggy fairways from several days of rain, shifting wind and difficult pin placements.
The conditions required patience, and that’s where Kerr’s training helped her out.
“I knew the course was playing tough and that I just had to hang in there,” she said.
Through 14 holes, she had one birdie, one bogey and 12 pars – and was right in it.
Then came No. 15, and the shot from 220 yards out that ultimately proved so critical.
It also helped convince Kerr that her new approach could lead to something big.
“I feel like I’m just tapping into my potential,” she said. “There’s a long time that I didn’t, but mental training helps you believe in yourself. … I definitely know I’m good.”
Good enough to climb from No. 6 in the world to No. 1?
“I think I can,” the 31-year-old said. “I mean, I kind of hesitate to say that, but I think I can. I’m not afraid of it any more, which is I think why we’re seeing some improvement. … There’s not a whole lot of self-doubt left in there for me.”