Wed, Jul 09, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Lunke wins in playoff

US WOMEN'S OPEN Despite easy pin placements, all three women struggled at the start of the playoff, but only Hilary Lunke managed to thrive under the pressure

AP , NORTH PLAINS, OREGON

Hilary Lunke tees off the third hole during the playoff round of the US Women's Open Championship at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Ridge, Oregon, on Monday. Lunke shot a 1 under par 70 in this playoff round to beat Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins in an 18-hole playoff round to win the tournament.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Hilary Lunke surprised everyone but herself, winning the US Women's Open with a 4.6m birdie putt on the 18th hole of a three-way playoff to become the first qualifier to capture women's golf most prestigious trophy.

After watching Angela Stanford make another clutch birdie on the final hole to tie for the lead, Lunke finished off a dramatic week at Pumpkin Ridge with 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 US 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 US Open," Lunke had said Sunday evening after getting into the playoff.

No one can doubt her now.

She became the first player since Annika Sorenstam in 1995 to make her first LPGA victory the US Women's Open. And at age 24, Lunke became the youngest American to win a major championship in 16 years.

Lunke is no threat to replace Sorenstam as the best player in women's golf. She is short hitter, but that was no problem on the longest course 5,987m in the 58-year history of the US Women's Open.

Not with her short game. Lunke, who has a master's degree from Stanford University, could make a living giving putting lessons, and her wedge game was equally stout. She hit only eight greens, hardly the recipe required for the US 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 victories, had experience and momentum on her side after closing with a 69 on Sunday. She recovered from a bad shart to get to within one shot, only to see her hopes end with a double bogey on the 13th hole.

Lunke looked as if she might take all the drama out of the first three-way playoff at the US Women's Open since 1987. Despite relatively easy pin placements, all three women struggled at the start, only Lunke managed to thrive.

Her short game was brilliant, especially the flat stick.

Lunke didn't hit a green in regulation until No. 6, where a 6.1m birdie putt moved her to 2 under and gave her a four-stroke lead.

Robbins and Stanford didn't let it get any worse.

Robbins was wild off the tee and started with three bogeys on the first four holes, getting back into the mix with three birdies, including a 4-footer on No. 10 that brought her within one shot.

It looked like Robbins might leave the 10th green in a tie, but Lunke saved par from the bunker with an 2.4m putt.

Stanford, shaky off the tee and with her putter, fell to 3 over when she missed the green to the left on No. 8 from the fairway.

She didn't make another bogey until No. 17, which ultimately cost her a chance to win.

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