Stacy Lewis may have jumped to the top of the world golf rankings faster than even the LPGA star expected, but the new No. 1 pledged she would enjoy her new status.
“I’m going to have fun, I know that,” Lewis told reporters after firing a final-round 8-under 64 and winning the LPGA Founders Cup by three strokes over 69-hole leader Ai Miyazato. “I watched Yani [Tseng] struggle with it for too long and I’m going to go and have fun.”
Tseng, who held sway for 109 consecutive weeks and has talked often about the pressures she has experienced trying to maintain her position, went on Twitter to congratulate the new top dog. Tseng sounded almost buoyant to get back to being a hunter and not the hunted.
Congrats Stacy, You deserve this world number 1😀Great job !! Happy for you👏👏👏💃💃💃I am about to start chasing world number 1 now @stacy_lewis— Yani Tseng (@YaniTseng) March 17, 2013
For Lewis, who has had her eye on Tseng’s spot since last season, when she won four tour events and was named Player of the Year, Sunday’s triumph represented vindication for her beleaguered caddie Travis Wilson and an incredible rebound for the 28-year-old American who spent seven-plus years in a back brace battling scoliosis.
“Almost 10 years ago I was going into surgery to put a rod and five screws in my back,” Lewis said. “I’m really not supposed to be here.”
While it has been a remarkable comeback from adversity for the University of Arkansas graduate, it was a wild 24 hours or so for her and her caddie, who cost his boss two strokes on Saturday when he tested the surface of a fairway bunker on the 16th hole. Lewis overcame Wilson’s blunder as well as a four-shot deficit to start the fourth round, thanks to her own clutch putting and an uncharacteristic collapse by Miyazato down the stretch.
Indeed, Lewis took advantage of the scuffling by Miyazato, who suffered a fate similar to the one Lewis experienced on the 16th hole on Saturday, though in Sunday’s finale it was golfer error that began with an errant wedge shot from the fairway.
“I was shocked that she hit the shot that she hit on 16,” Lewis said about Miyazato’s wayward approach to the green on the short par-4 that caused Wilson so much agita a day earlier. “She’s green, green, it’s boring to play with her because she hits so many greens."
Miyazato pulled her approach into an unplayable lie in the desert. She took a drop into a plugged lie, flew the green with her next shot, and carded a double-bogey.
Meanwhile, Lewis drained her birdie putt on 16, chalked up her ninth of the day on 17, and sealed her second straight victory of the season and her sixth tour win in her last 23 events with a two-putt par on the last.
“I wasn’t lacking in motivation, that’s for sure,” said Lewis, who never blamed Wilson for Saturday’s penalty and used as additional motivation the TV viewer who informed officials about the rules violation. “As soon as I made that putt [on 16], I pointed at Travis and said, ‘That one was for you.’”
While the 16th certainly played a huge role in the outcome of the match, Lewis believed the tenor of the game shifted on No. 13.
“I make birdie there and then she bogeys 14,” she said. “That kind of changed the momentum.”
Perhaps, though, it was the 1964 quarter Wilson gave Lewis earlier in the week and which she used as a marker on the greens that got the ball rolling.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Lewis, who donated $50,000 to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program.
“Because of what this tournament stands for,” she said about paying her good fortune forward. “To have our founders out this week....Everything is because of them and so I feel like I need to keep giving back to the game and keep giving back to the kids.
“I just feel lucky to be able to do it,” said golf’s new No. 1.
As for the stress and strain of holding the top slot? Lewis said bring it on.
“I love having that pressure, I love having to make putts to win tournaments,” she said. “That’s what I practice for, that’s what I work hard for.
“That was the most fun I’ve had down the stretch,” Lewis said. “It was an awesome day.”