Stacy Lewis yesterday admitted the clock was ticking on her bid to become the world’s top woman golfer, as severe, lifelong back problems threaten to end her career at any time.
The American was projected to move up one place to world No. 3 after her nail-biting victory at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, and said she hoped to displace Taiwan’s Yani Tseng in a matter of weeks.
“Ultimately I would like to get to No. 1, and a win is a good way to get there,” she said. “So I’ve just got to keep chipping away at it, and hopefully in a few weeks, we’re there.”
Tseng, who finished tied for 28th, has spent 107 weeks at the top, but is now likely to be defending a lead of less than one average point — down from nine a year ago — as the LPGA Tour moves to Phoenix, Arizona, in two weeks.
Lewis is vying with South Korea’s Choi Na-yeon, who is currently ranked second and finished in second place yesterday, to become the next No. 1.
And the achievement cannot come soon enough for the 28-year-old American, who opted for a career in golf despite undergoing intense treatment, including spending most of her teenage years in a back brace, to correct a curve in her spine.
For seven-and-half years from the age of 11, Lewis wore the brace for 18 hours a day, taking it off only to play golf. She still needed surgery to insert a rod and five screws into her back to correct the deformity further.
“There’s really no timetable on what I’m going to be able to do and how long I’m going to be able to play, because there’s nobody else doing this with a rod and five screws in their back,” Lewis said.
“It’s really kind of an unknown, and I think that’s one thing that helps me go play every week and makes me work hard, is that I need to take advantage of the time I have right now,” she said. “There’s no guarantee how long my back holds up, so I’m thankful for the time that I have and it makes me just go work hard every day.”
Lewis underlined the bravery that has taken her so far in women’s golf when she held on to win her sixth career title despite a multitude of problems in Singapore.
Lewis lost her outright lead on Saturday after play was halted for two-and-a-half hours for a thunderstorm, when she was just yards from the 18th green.
Yesterday, playing in an intimidating group with Choi and nine-time winner Paula Creamer at Sentosa Golf Club, she bogeyed 15 and 17 to be reduced to just a one-shot lead with a hole to play.
However, with the title in the balance, she had no hesitation in pulling out the driver for the first time on the water-fringed 18th when she realized the strong wind could help her reach the green in two shots.
“All week, I played it as a three-shot hole, laying back short of the bunker and then laying up from there,” she said. “And I saw where Paula hit her drive, past the bunker, and I turned to my caddie, and we both at the same time said, ‘driver.’ I let it rip and that thing got so far down there.”
Lewis then used her hybrid, which helped her to a massive eagle on the par-five seventh, to reach the back of the green before three-putting for victory.
Taiwan’s Candie Kung finished tied for fifth with Americans Jessica Korda and Danielle Kang. Entering the round tied for ninth, Kung, the 55th-ranked player in the world, shot a birdie to start and finished with a two-under 70 after birdies on the 11th, 13th and 14th holes.