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A long time waiting for a teenage win

Morgan Pressel is the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history.

Even at 18, not even a year removed from high school, it still felt like a long time coming because Pressel seems to be have been on this stage forever.

She was that 12-year-old with a swagger and braces, the youngest ever to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open six years ago. She walked with her shoulders erect, ponytail bobbing from side to side, acting then as if she belonged.

She was that high school kid who upstaged Michelle Wie at Cherry Hills two years ago and had the U.S. Women's Open won until Birdie Kim stole it away with an improbable bunker shot for birdie on the final hole as Pressel watched, stunned, from the fairway.

She made it through Q-school during her senior year of high school, pressing the LPGA Tour to let her join at age 17 even though the rules said you have to be 18. The tour let her play, and just look at her now.

Pressel was crying again Sunday -- she always does that -- only these tears were a mixture of sadness and joy, and mostly shock. She was four shots behind playing the 18th hole. About an hour later, she took a plunge into the pond after a stunning one-shot victory Sunday in the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

"I've always had high hopes and big dreams," Pressel said.

And she always believed she would be a major champion, even if she couldn't draw this up in her dreams.

Pressel did her part, closing with a 3-under 69 and playing the final 24 holes at tough Mission Hills without a bogey. After three straight par saves, she followed with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th to finish at 3-under 285.

That's how major championships are won.

Suzann Pettersen and a host of others supplied the help she needed. Pettersen couldn't find a fairway over the final five holes, played them in 4 over par and left short a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff.

That's how major championships are lost.

"I said yesterday that the one who made the fewest mistakes would win," she said. "I did a few too many."

She wasn't alone.

-- Se Ri Pak, missing only this major to complete the career Grand Slam, had a three-shot lead on the front nine, fell two shots behind Pettersen over a four-hole stretch around the turn, then bogeyed five of the last six holes for a 77.

-- Catriona Matthew had a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have made her the clubhouse leader at 4 under. She ran it 5 feet by the hole, missed it coming back and walked off with a bogey, a 71 and a tie for second place.

-- Stacy Prammanasudh took bogey on three of the last five holes and shot 71 to finish two shots behind.

-- Brittany Lincicome was hanging around making one clutch par after another until she dropped a shot on the 15th. She had a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th that just missed, leaving her with a 72 and one shot behind.

Even so, nothing compares to Pettersen.

The 25-year-old from Norway, a runner-up last week to Lorena Ochoa outside Phoenix, was in command as so many others stumbled until a bogey from the rough on the 15th and a double bogey on the 16th, when it took her three shots to reach the front of the green and three shots with her putter. She came up short on the 17th and missed an 8-foot par putt.

She missed the fairway on the 18th, which kept her from going for the green in two. And her wedge was 25 feet away.

"So it never ends," she said, her voice still choking with emotion.

"I was so happy last week for a second place," she said. "But this time, I felt like I lost the tournament."

Pettersen also gave credit to Pressel, and indeed, credit was due.

She took double bogey on the 12th hole Saturday for the second straight round, but never lost hope. Standing outside the scoring trailer after the third round, Pressel was reminded that she played in the final round a year ago with Karrie Webb and watched her make up a seven-shot deficit and win in a playoff.

"I'm right in there with a chance," she said when she was four behind going into the last day. "A little help doesn't hurt."

She smiled at that recollection Sunday, her clothes and hair drying from an unlikely jump into the pond.

"That rang true," she said.

The tradition at Mission Hills is for the winner to leap into the water surrounding the 18th green. Pressel took her caddie, Jon Yarbrough, and her grandmother, Evelyn Krickstein, along for the swim. Herb Krickstein, her grandfather and father of former tennis player Aaron Krickstein, stayed behind, although he later dipped his toes in the water.

Pressel can cry watching cartoons, so the tears were the only predictable part of this final round. But she really lost it looking out at her grandparents, who raised her and nurtured her in golf and in life. And she sobbed thinking of her mother, Kathy Pressel, who died of cancer four years ago as Pressel was on her meteoric rise to being a major champion.

"I know my mother is always with me," she said. "And I'm sure she's proud of me, as my grandparents are."

Ochoa needed a victory to replace Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the world, so that will have to wait. The quadruple bogey on the 17th hole Saturday doomed Ochoa, who tied for 10th, four shots behind. Sorenstam shot 75 and tied for 31st.

Pressel's place in the game is still unclear, but she showed Wie and Paula Creamer how to get it done.

The kid rarely misses a chance to needle both of them, but she was gracious as a major champion. Wie was injured this week, and Pressel said the 17-year-old Wie still has time to break her record.

Creamer was one shot out of the lead and shot 78. Two years ago, Creamer was one shot out of the lead at Cherry Hills and shot 79.

"This week was just my week," Pressel said.

 

April 3, 2007




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