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Monday, June 27, 2005

ESPN.com - GOLF - Birdie's birdie on 18 wins U.S. Women's Open

ESPN.com - GOLF - Birdie's birdie on 18 wins U.S. Women's OpenPressel, Lang runners-up; Wie, Annika finish 12-over
Associated Press

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. -- She changed her name to Birdie so everyone would know who she was, and even that wasn't enough at a U.S. Women's Open where historical moments belonged to everyone else.

It started with Annika Sorenstam and her quest for the Grand Slam.

Then came 17-year-old Morgan Pressel playing the lead role in a parade of teen contenders, poised to become the youngest major champion in golf history.

Ultimately, the most compelling moment of a riveting week at Cherry Hills belonged to Birdie Kim.

With a spectacular shot that allowed her to live up to her nickname, the 23-year-old from South Korea holed a 30-yard bunker shot for the only birdie on the 18th hole Sunday to win the U.S. Women's Open.

"I never think about to win," she said. "I was never a good bunker player. Finally, I make it."

Equally shocked was Pressel, the fiery teen from south Florida who marched confidently up the 18th fairway, believing she was about to make history at Cherry Hills. Instead, she watched in disbelief from 200 yards away as Kim's bunker shot rolled across the green and disappeared into the cup.

"It was like, 'I can't believe that actually just happened,'" Pressel said.

Sorenstam wondered what hit her, too.

She looked so unstoppable winning the first two majors of the year but was never a factor at Cherry Hills. Sorenstam even tried to emulate Arnold Palmer's final-round charge in 1960 to win the U.S. Open by trying to drive the first green. Instead, she clipped a tree and went into a creek, making bogey on her way to a 77.

Sorenstam finished over par in a 72-hole event for the first time in four years, ending up at 12-over 296.

"Just didn't happen," she said.

Still, the biggest surprise was Kim.

In two years on the LPGA Tour, she had made only 10 cuts in 34 starts and only once had finished in the top 10. Her career earnings were a meager $79,832.

One shot that ranks among the most dramatic finishes in a major changed everything. Kim, who closed with a 1-over 72, finished at 287 and earned $560,000, the biggest payoff in women's golf.

It was reminiscent of Bob Tway sinking a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to win the 1986 PGA Championship.

"I heard about the name," Kim said. "He's an old guy, right?"

Pressel went for broke on her birdie chip to force a playoff, sent it 20 feet by and made bogey for a 75 to tie for second with 19-year-old amateur Brittany Lang, who missed an eight-foot par putt on the 18th hole for a 71.

The other teens melted on a difficult day at Cherry Hills, where Lorie Kane (69) was the only player to break par and the average score was 76.1.

Michelle Wie, the 15-year-old from Hawaii coming off a runner-up finish in the last major, double-bogeyed the first hole on her way to an 82. Eighteen-year-old Paula Creamer had two double bogeys and a triple bogey for a 79.

Wie was still a factor.

She, too, hit into the bunker on the final hole, and her shot gave Kim a good idea what to expect. She needed all the help she could get, coming into the tournament ranked 141st in sand saves on the LPGA Tour.

"I saw her landing and her roll, so the green is not that fast, not that hard," Kim said. "I have confidence to make close to the pin. Maybe get close, maybe really close. It goes in!"

The U.S. Women's Open champion went by her given name, Ju-Yun Kim, as a rookie last year, but decided to use Birdie this season to stand out from the other five players with Kim as a surname on the LPGA Tour.

"I wanted something different, something simple and easy," she said at the start of the season. "Birdie is good in golf, and it's good for me."

It was better than she ever imagined on a sun-baked afternoon at Cherry Hills, which ultimately came down to a battle for survival. This was the first time the Women's Open champion was over par since 1998 at Blackwolf Run, when Se Ri Pak won in a playoff after finishing at 6-over.

Palmer made Cherry Hills famous in the 1960 U.S. Open for his charge from seven shots behind. This was more of a retreat, a battle to see who could survive.

Lorena Ochoa of Mexico had cause to feel even worse than Pressel.

She was 3-under for the round and 3-over for the tournament -- a likely winning score -- until the pressure got the best of her and she chunked her tee shot into the water on the 18th, making a quadruple-bogey 8 to finish four shots behind.

"I fought so hard for 71 holes and just the last one, you know," Ochoa said as tears welled in her eyes. "I feel really sad. That's the way golf is."

Sorenstam had played conservatively all week but drew cheers when she pulled driver from the bag on the 346-yard opening hole, the same one Palmer drove in the 1960 U.S. Open when he charged from seven shots behind.

Palmer hit the green and made birdie. Sorenstam clipped a tree and went into a hazard for a bogey.

"My game plan today was to be a little bit more aggressive," she said. "It totally backfired."

It was a major bummer for Wie, who was coming off a runner-up finish in the LPGA Championship and was tied for lead going into the final round. The gallery lined both sides of the first fairway, eager to see if the 15-year-old could make headlines around the world.

What they saw was someone who played every bit her age.

She took double bogey on the opening hole, hitting into the rough and laying up in more rough. She missed putts inside three feet on consecutive holes. And trying to hammer a shot out of the thick grass, the ball dribbled only 25 feet. Wie went out in 42 and was never a factor the rest of the day.

"I have to give my ball a GPS because it was lost," she said.

The victory gives Kim a five-year exemption on the LPGA Tour and three of the majors; she gets to return to the U.S. Women's Open for the next 10 years.

Kim let out a "Whoop!" when told of her prize money, but all she cared about was a big silver trophy she never thought she could win.

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