SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) — Even with the silver trophy at her side, Cristie Kerr felt uneasy sharing the premonition she had all year about coming to Pine Needles and winning the U.S. Women’s Open.
She might not have scripted it quite like this.
With a swing she spent the weekend trying to fix, Kerr played the final 45 holes with only two bogeys. She three-putted only once all week on the treacherous Donald Ross greens by using a putter she purchased at a pro shop in South Korea.
And going head-to-head with the No. 1 player in the world Sunday afternoon, Kerr drilled an 18-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole to take the lead and then watched as Lorena Ochoa made another series of mistakes down the stretch in a major.
“When I stepped on the grounds this week, it was just magic,” Kerr said after closing with a 1-under 70 for a two-shot victory over Ochoa and Angela Park to end her 0-for-41 drought in the majors.
“Going head-to-head with Lorena and beating her … it was special memories. You can’t make this stuff up,” she said. “These are thing you take to the grave and you just smile about.”
It was all too familiar for Ochoa.
With a chance to capture her first major and remove any doubt about who’s the best in her sport, Ochoa struggled again with a quick swing under pressure and failed to hit a green in regulation over the final five holes.
“It hurts, but I did everything I could,” Ochoa said.
The 25-year-old Mexican star closed with a 71 to tie for second with Park, an 18-year-old rookie who birdied the final hole for a 70. Morgan Pressel, who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April, was two shots behind with five holes remaining until playing them in 5 over par for a 77, leaving the course in tears.
The celebration belonged to Kerr, who dropped to her knees and cried after tapping in for par on the final hole. She tossed her golf ball to fans who had circled the green, then leapt into the arms of her husband, Erik Stevens.
Kerr finished at 5-under 279 and earned $560,000 for her 10th career victory.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl,” she said.
Kerr had been left out of most conversations about top young American players, with most of the attention going to Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome and Pressel. No one can ignore her now, not with her name ready to be engraved right below Annika Sorenstam on the biggest trophy in women’s golf.
“I don’t know if slighted was the right word; maybe overlooked a little bit,” Kerr said. “But the media is the media, and they’ll write that they want to write. I know in my heart of hearts who I am and how many wins I have and what I’ve done. And that’s good enough for me.”
Ochoa will have to wait until the Women’s British Open at St. Andrews for her next shot at winning a major, which is quickly turning into a bigger burden than she imagined. She’s now 0-for-23 in the tournaments that define careers.
“I don’t need to be frustrated,” Ochoa said. “We still have one more major, and I’m going to try to get that one.”
Storm delays forced 63 players to return at dawn Sunday to complete the third round, and Kerr promptly made bogey. She didn’t make many more mistakes after that, and her only other bogey on a steamy, sunny day in the sand hills came from a bunker on the eighth hole of the final round that dropped her into a tie with Ochoa.
They each made par on the next five holes, with Ochoa missing a great birdie chance from 8 feet on the 13th. It was typical of her long day, which began with Ochoa missing three putts inside 7 feet at the end of the third round, two of them for par.
Then came the decisive birdie on No. 14, where Kerr ripped a drive and hit 4-iron from 190 yards that hopped onto the green and stopped about 18 feet behind the cut.
“If you hit a good shot, you can put some pressure on the other person,” Kerr said. “I ended up hitting an unbelievable shot and making an unbelievable putt.”
After Kerr’s birdie on the 14th, Ochoa never hit another green in regulation.
She tends to miss to the left under pressure, a flaw that exposed itself again in the late afternoon. Ochoa went left into a bunker on the par-5 15th, a hole she could have reached in two from the fairway. She had to save par from 15 feet to stay in the game.
The pivotal moment came on No. 17, one of the toughest at Pine Needles.
Kerr hit a draw around the dogleg left into the fairway, leaving her only a 7-iron to the green. Ochoa, as she did in the morning, tried to hammer a driver over the trees, but the ball nicked the top of the trees, dropping into a bunker. Ochoa caught her fairway metal heavy and moved it only 60 yards, hit a solid shot to 20 feet but missed the par putt.
“I was trying to put the ball on the green and just swung a little bit too fast, and I hit the ball on the top,” Ochoa said of her 5-wood out of the bunker. “It happens.”
That gave Kerr a two-shot lead heading to the 18th, and she drilled another one right down the middle, then followed that with an approach safely on the green and a lag to 2 feet.
“When I hit it up there close, I had known I had won,” she said. “It was hard to fight back the tears, because I had envisioned this since I was a little girl.”
This major was a long time coming for Kerr, a pioneer of sorts for women who now routinely skip college. She turned pro when she graduated high school, won in her sixth year on tour and has not finished out of the top five on the LPGA money list the last three years.
Kerr got into contention by finishing off a 66 in the morning to take a one-shot lead, and she never wavered. Ochoa had a chance to share the 54-hole lead until she three-putted for bogey from 30 feet, settling for a 68 that left her tied with Pressel (69).
Ochoa had ample opportunities, but her best putts were for par.