Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Qualifier Lunke wins U.S. Women's Open

Defeats Stanford, Robbins in playoff to make history

The Associated Press

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. - Hilary Lunke surprised everyone but herself, winning the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge on Monday with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole of a three-way playoff.

She is the first qualifier to capture the most prestigious trophy in women's golf.

After watching Angela Stanford make another clutch birdie on the final hole to tie for the lead, Lunke drilled a 15-footer that broke sharply to the left and fell into the cup. She thrust her arms in the air and sobbed as she hugged her family.

Lunke always believed she had the game to win a U.S. Women's Open, but that didn't make her journey any less amazing.

It began last month with an 80 in the first round of sectional qualifying. It ended Monday under sunny skies with an awesome short game that carried her to a 1-under 70 and a one-stroke victory over Stanford.

Kelly Robbins finished three strokes back at 73.

"I honestly believe that when I win my first LPGA event, it will be a U.S. Open," Lunke predicted Sunday after getting into the playoff.

She became the first player since Annika Sorenstam in 1995 to make her first LPGA victory the U.S. Women's Open. At 24, Lunke became the youngest American to win a major championship in 16 years. Walking off the 18th green, she found her father and again broke down.

"I can't believe it," she said through tears.

Lunke had a chance to win outright Sunday, but her 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole came up short.

Monday, Lunke took only 23 putts in the 18-hole playoff, and the final one was her best stroke.

"She put it on top of me," Stanford said. "That's just awesome. It's unfortunate. I wanted to win. But it was so much fun."

Stanford, who trailed by four shots with 10 holes to play, pulled off more magic by chipping in for birdie on the 14th hole to finally catch Lunke. Her only mistake on the back nine cost her the victory.

From the 17th fairway, Stanford pulled her approach into the bunker, blasted out to 10 feet and missed the par putt.

Her only hope was a birdie on the last, and that looked unlikely when her third shot out of deep rough came up just short of the green. But Stanford, coming off her first LPGA Tour victory last week, again rose to the occasion.

She holed a 20-footer for birdie Sunday to get into the playoff. This putt was just as magical, streaking across the green and into the cup.

"I knew she was going to make it," Lunke said. "I was just trying to focus on my line and pretend it was match play."

Lunke won $560,000, the biggest check in women's golf. In 22 previous events on the LPGA Tour, she had never finished higher than 15th and had $69,717 in career earnings.

Lunke is no threat to replace Sorenstam as the best player in women's golf. She is a short hitter, but that was no problem on the longest course (6,550 yards) in the 58-year history of the U.S. Women's Open.

Lunke, who has a master's degree from Stanford, could make a living giving putting lessons, and her wedge game was equally sharp.

She hit only eight greens, hardly the recipe required for the U.S. Women's Open. But whenever the pressure was at its peak, Lunke always answered with clutch putts. Her birdie on the 18th was the ninth putt she made from 5 feet or longer.

Robbins, a major champion with nine LPGA wins, saw her bid end with a double bogey at the 13th.

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