Stacy Lewis held off defending champion Yani Tseng of Taiwan to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship by three strokes on Sunday, earning her first LPGA Tour title in the year’s first major.
Lewis shot a three-under 69 to finish at 13-under 275, rallying from an early two-stroke deficit while going head-to-head with the world’s top-ranked player.
She punctuated a tenacious back nine in gusty conditions at Mission Hills with a 20-foot par putt from the fringe on the 17th hole that broke abruptly to the left and dropped in, prompting a celebration from the gallery.
“I can’t even believe it,” said the 26-year-old Lewis, who overcame scoliosis in her childhood to become an elite golfer. “I’ve felt like I’m going to throw up all day. It’s awesome ... I just couldn’t believe I made it [on the 17th hole]. I thought I had a good shot from there, but I just tried to stay calm.”
Lewis shared the first-round lead with Brittany Lincicome and opened a three-stroke lead after two rounds, but Tseng came back on Saturday with a bogey-free 66 to take the lead.
Tseng lost her focus in her quest for her fifth title of the year, however, shooting a 74 and bogeying four times in the final round on Sunday.
“It was a tough day out there,” Tseng said. “It was very windy today and the green was pretty firm, and it was very hard to adjust my distance and the speed of my putting.”
“Stacy really played awesome out there. She handled the pressure really well and she played great,” she said.
“I did my best. I tried my best today and I didn’t give her any shots today,” the Taiwanese said.
“I hung in there until the last putt and smiled the whole way, whole day. So it was good and it was very good experience for me this time,” she said.
“Golf is golf, so this is normal. I just didn’t play well,” Tseng said.
Morgan Pressel, Katie Futcher and Angela Stanford finished nine strokes behind Lewis in a share of third place.
Pressel, the 2007 Kraft Nabisco champion, and Michelle Wie both faltered badly in their final rounds after starting the day within striking distance of Tseng and Lewis. Pressel shot a 76, while Wie had a 75 and fell to sixth place.
After honing her swing and refining her approach over the past year, Lewis came into the season with high expectations. She lost to Tseng after holding a second-round lead in the Australian Masters seven weeks ago, but she played far better than her Taiwanese opponent on Sunday.
Lewis started out aggressively, making birdies on the second and third holes. Tseng’s bogey on the fourth hole then allowed her to pull even.
Tseng retook the lead with a birdie putt on the eighth hole, but Lewis immediately pulled back ahead with a long birdie putt on the ninth, before Tseng missed a short par putt. Lewis then went two strokes up with a 12-foot par putt on the 12th.
Tseng had one more chance when Lewis bogeyed the 15th to allow her to pull within one stroke, but she bogeyed the next two holes to lose the title.
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