ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Stacy Lewis had another big week at St. Andrews and left with an even bigger prize -- a major championship at the home of golf.
Lewis finished a marathon Sunday with exquisite birdies on the last two holes of the Old Course to close with an even-par 72 to win the Women’s British Open by two shots. It was her second major on the LPGA Tour, ending a record streak of 10 straight majors won by Asian players.
The last time the 28-year-old Lewis was at St. Andrews was in 2008 for the Curtis Cup, and she went 5-0 to lead the Americans to victory.
This was even sweeter, and it required no less than her best golf in conditions so blustery that Lewis was the only player at par or better in the last 21 groups. Three shots behind on the back nine, Na Yeon Choi gave her a chance with consecutive bogeys, and Lewis took it from there.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lewis said. “It all happened so fast at the end. You’re afraid for every shot, and all of a sudden you make a couple of birdies and it’s over.”
On the par-four 17th, the famous Road Hole, Lewis drilled a five-iron that tumbled onto the green and settled three feet below the cup for a birdie to reach seven under and give her a share of the lead when Choi three-putted the 14th hole from about 80 feet.
Walking off the green, Lewis said she told her caddie, “One more.”
A driver left her some 40 yards short of the green, and the Texan used a putter to whack the next shot through the Valley of Sin about 25 feet past the hole. She made that for another birdie to post a score at eight-under 280 and see if anyone could catch her.
Choi, who won the U.S. Women’s Open last year, was trying to salvage pars to give her a reasonable shot at birdie on the final hole. It all came undone on the 17th. Choi’s hybrid from the fairway was too strong and settled in a clump of rough, just inches from going down the slope onto the road. She chipped to within six feet, but pulled the par putt. When she failed to holed out from the fairway, Lewis had the title.
Inbee Park’s bid to become the first pro golfer to win four straight majors in one season ended early — very early.
Park returned to the Old Course first thing in the morning to resume the third round, which was suspended Saturday because of 40 mph gusts. In calm conditions, Park couldn’t cut into a large deficit and shot 74 to fall nine shots behind. Then, she began the final round by four-putting for double bogey. Park closed with rounds of 74-78 and finished 14 shots behind.
“I’ve done something amazing this season,” Park said. “I won three straight majors. I don’t know if I can do that again.”
Choi, who had a three-shot lead with six holes to play, had back-to-back bogeys from about 80 feet, and her bogey on the 17th led to a 73. He tied for second with Hee Young Park, one of four players who had a share of the lead at one point in the final round. Park also had a 73.
Morgan Pressel, who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, was tied one shot behind Choi until getting into trouble off the tee at the 12th and taking double bogey. Her last hope was a birdie-birdie finish, just like Lewis, only her shot into the 17th went over the green and onto the gravel path separating the putting surface from the road.
Pressel, a major champion at 18 in 2007 at the Kraft Nabisco, closed with a 76 and had to settle for her consolation prize. She tied for fourth with Suzann Pettersen (74), enough to boost her world ranking and grab one of the last two spots on the Solheim Cup team. The other spot available through the ranking went to Lizette Salas, who finished alone in sixth place.
It was the second time the Women’s British Open was played at St. Andrews, and Lewis provided another quality winner. Lorena Ochoa won in 2007.
Lewis last year became the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win LPGA player of the year, which is based on a points system. Then, she won twice early this season to reach No. 1 in the world. That lasted only until Park won the first major and kept right on going.
Sunday was another stage for Lewis to show her grit.
She was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 11, so severe that she wore a back brace for 18 hours every day from age 11 until she got out of high school, and then had to have surgery when that didn’t correct the curvature in her spine.
She went on to win an NCAA title at Arkansas, star at St. Andrews for the Solheim Cup and then take the 54-hole lead in her first U.S. Women’s Open as a pro. Lewis won the Kraft Nabisco in 2011, the last American major champion in women’s golf until her remarkable performance Sunday.
Nothing was more impressive than her five-iron on the 17th, one of the toughest par fours in golf that starts with a blind tee shot over the corner of the Old Course Hotel. Lewis drilled it in the middle of the fairway, and couldn’t remember how far she had for her second shot. With the wind, it didn’t matter. This is the kind of shot that must be felt, and her 5-iron was hit with the right trajectory and line to catch the slopes perfectly and feed toward the hole.
“That might be one of the best of my career,” Lewis said. “I was trying to hit it 160 yards in the air. It worked out perfectly.”