With Inbee Park’s quest for her fourth straight major championship title stalled at St. Andrews, Stacy Lewis put on a furious late rally of birdies to emerge Sunday as the unlikely winner of the Women’s British Open.
The world No. 2 carded a final round of even-par 72 on the iconic Old Course for her second major championship title, a two-shot win over Na Yeon Choi and Hee Young Park. With two birdies to end her week at the spiritual home of golf, Lewis overtook Choi’s three-shot lead and became the first U.S. player to win the British Open since 2006.
While a five-birdie, five-bogey scorecard may not evoke visions of victory, two of those birdies could not have come at more opportune moments for the 28-year-old whose other major win was the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.
"It's just crazy, I was just hanging in there all day, and then, you know, 17 and 18 just happened so fast that I don't know if it's really hit me yet," Lewis told reporters after playing 36 holes following suspension of play on Saturday due to high winds. "It was so hard, you had to stay focused on the next shot, you couldn't even really think about the end."
Lewis began the final round one stroke back of third-round leader Morgan Pressel and it appeared early on that she would come up short when she started the finale at 2-over through five holes. She began her comeback late, with what she called "the perfect golf shot" on No. 17.
While Choi, playing five groups behind Lewis, made back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14, Lewis striped her approach shot to the par-4 17th to within three feet. She made the putt and grabbed a share of the lead heading to the final hole.
Lewis blasted her drive to within 40 yards of the green and took out her putter for her second shot.
"Travis [Wilson, Lewis’ caddie], he didn't even give me a number," she said. "We were playing something on the ground, we never even thought about flying anything up there."
Lewis decided to go with the putter after doing so during a practice round.
"I knew it was possible," she said. "As soon as he felt confident with the putter, it made me even more confident with it, because I think that was the only shot from where I was that you could get it somewhat close."
The putt blew by the cup some 20 feet, which is when Lewis reached back to her play at the 2008 Curtis Cup, when she went 5-0 on the Old Course. Facing a similar putt five years ago, Lewis left it short.
"That's kind of the mistake there is to not get the putt to the hole, because you see the swale on the other side, you think it's downhill but it's actually back up the hill," she said. "I knew what that putt did. The hardest part was just getting it to the hole. Right off the face, it looked pretty good, and it was pretty cool when it went in."
Choi finished with three bogeys in her final six holes and Lewis earned what may have been the most satisfying win of her career.
"It’s right up there with the Kraft, for sure," she said.
As for Park, who conceded the pressures of chasing history got to her in her opening round on Thursday, her chances for a miraculous rebound on day four came to a quick halt on No. 1.
"The fourth round, I really got off to a bad start," Park said. "I four-putted the first hole, really slow start. Really tough to get your day going after that kind of a hole, but, you know, just glad that this tournament is over, and I've gone through four rounds under pressure.
"It's something that I've never experienced before, and I just had a great experience," said Park, who still has a chance to win four professional majors in a season at next month’s Evian Championship, the LPGA’s unprecedented fifth major of the season. "I might not have won this week, but I've learned."
With third and fourth-round scores of 74 and 78, Park finished at 6-over and in a tie for 42nd. One of the most reliable putters in all of golf, Park struggled with her flat stick all week, especially on Sunday when she needed a whopping 40 putts in the third round.