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Hilary Lunke looking forward to title defence

American Hilary Lunke has had a disappointing LPGA Tour season, but is hoping history will repeat itself this week when she defends her U.S. Women's Open title at the Orchards Golf Club.

Twelve months ago, Lunke stunned the golfing world by edging out fellow Americans Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins in a three-way playoff at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Oregon for her maiden major victory.

When she tees off on Thursday in the opening round of the 59th U.S. Women's Open, the 26-year-old will have vivid memories of her breakthrough win as she will be playing alongside Stanford and Robbins.

"I don't know how they'll feel, but I'm really looking forward to playing with Angela and Kelly again," Lunke told reporters on Wednesday.

Before last year, she had never finished higher than 15th on the LPGA Tour. Statistics from the 2004 campaign, including six missed cuts in 11 starts and a tie for 36th as her best result, suggest little has changed.

"It has been frustrating," said Lunke, who is in her third professional season. "My game is getting better, it's just that I haven't had the results to prove it.

"But I've always said that my game was more suited to a U.S. Open course. On the tour, a lot of the courses are long, wet and wide open.

"At the U.S. Open, the fairways are much tighter and the short game comes more into play, which suits the strength of my game."

However, Lunke's husband and caddie Tylar believes her lack of length will be a handicap this week. She concedes she will have to lay up short of the creek that guards the green at the 439-yard par four 16th.

"And I've also never got home (in two) at the (412-yard) 18th," she added. "If I get two fives and two fours for the 16th over the four days, I'll be really happy."

Whatever does unfold over the next four days, Lunke has already lived her dream.

"Even if I never win another tournament, then I'll still be satisfied with my career," she said. "If you're only going to win one title, then there is none better than the U.S. Women's Open. It was the best week of my life."

Lunke was not alone in enjoying the best moment of her career. Nine times major winner Gary Player wrote her a letter of congratulation, while Ernie Els described her victory as "one of the greatest golf tournament he had ever seen".

Lunke has never met South African Els, but added: "Apparently, he watched the whole tournament and even taped it. That blows my mind. It's just awesome that he even watched more than a minute of it."

Since her victory at Pumpkin Ridge, Lunke has become a regular media target as the LPGA Tour moves across the United States. Frequently she feels she has to validate her victory.

"I do get a little weary of answering some of the questions," she said. "But I would never ever change a thing."

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