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Wie wins US Womens Amateur Public Links

Michelle Wie now has a national championship to go with her unlimited potential.

Wie, the 13-year-old phenom from Hawaii, outlasted Virada Nirapathpongporn for a 1-up victory Sunday at Ocean Hammock to become the youngest winner in the 27-year history of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links.

"I'm happy out of my mind," said Wie, who graduated from eighth grade last month. "I like beating a lot of people. I'm glad I survived all those matches."

It wasn't easy for the 5-foot-11 girl, whom Tom Lehman once dubbed the "Big Wiesy" because her swing reminds so many of Ernie Els.

She took the lead with a 25-foot eagle putt on the 14th hole, only to give it back when her drive found the water hazard that lines the left side of the fairway.

Nirapathpongporn, who last year won the NCAA title as a sophomore at Duke, missed a 3-foot par putt on the 17th to fall behind, only her third bogey of the 36-hole final. Her 20-foot birdie putt on the 36th hole to extend the match broke below the cup.

Wie tapped in her 2-foot par putt on the 18th green and raised her right arm to celebrate her first victory outside Hawaii.

Catherine Cartright was 17 when she won the Women's Public Links in 2000.

The youngest to win any USGA event was Aree Wongluekiet, who was 13 years, 3 months in 1999 when she won the U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur, which is restricted to players 18 and younger.

Wie is the youngest player to win any adult USGA event. Laura Baugh was 16 when she won the U.S. Women's Amateur in 1971.

Wie has competed against the men in Hawaii, trying unsuccessfully to qualify for the Sony Open on the PGA Tour in January. She played in the final group at the Nabisco Championships in March, the first LPGA Tour major of the year.

She will play against the men on the Canadian Tour in August and on the Nationwide Tour in September.

Nothing beats winning, though, especially a U.S. Golf Association title.

"The trophy is much bigger," Wie said.

It was the longest week of her career -- 36 holes of qualifying, followed by five 18-hole matches to reach the finals and 36 holes against an NCAA champion who gave Wie all she could handle on a sticky, sweltering afternoon along the Atlantic Ocean.

Nirapathpongporn grabbed a 4-up lead after eight holes, nearly holing out from the third fairway and sticking her approaches inside 10 feet.

"I was about to give up," Wie said. "She didn't give me a chance to make birdie."

Wie got back into the match with her awesome length, pounding drives that approached 300 yards and at times putting her some 80 yards ahead of the 21-year-old Thai. She tied the match with an 8-foot birdie on the 14th, and they headed to the final 18 holes.

Nirapathpongporn went 2-up with a tee shot into 5 feet for a birdie on the par-3 fourth, but Wie rallied back by winning three straight holes, with one shot that not many women would even think about trying.

Wie drove into a bunker down the left side of the par-5, 479-yard sixth hole. Instead of playing back toward the fairway, she hit 5-iron from 180 yards over the lake and just off the back of the green, then lipped out on her chip for eagle.

She took the lead for the first time in 23 holes on No. 7 in the afternoon on a rare mistake by Nirapathpongporn.

The Thai left her approach 60 feet short and three-putted for bogey, and when Wie saved par with a 6-foot putt, her father and caddie, B.J., let out a holler and pumped his fist. Wie built her lead to 2 holes with a 12-foot birdie on No. 9, but Nirapathpongporn kept chipping away.

She won the 11th when Wie hit into the water, and the 13th with a 9-iron into 2 feet.

It came down to the final two holes, and tension was high on the 17th. Nirapathpongporn chipped up the slope to 3 feet, while Wie's putt from the back collar of the green stopped 3 feet short. A USGA official had to measure the distance to see who was away.

Wie calmly rapped in her par putt. Nirapathpongporn hit a quick stroke and it raced by the right side. She looked up, wiped her eyes with her fingers and trudged to the 18th, knowing she needed a birdie for any chance.

"In the afternoon, I just didn't make any putts," Nirapathpongporn said. "Michelle played great. She was one shot better. That's why she deserved to win, why she's holding that big trophy."

 

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