U.S. Womens Open
U.S. Womens Open
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Inkster wins with record score

Cori Inkster is too young to know the difference between a birdie and a bogey except for the look on her mother's face. What the 5-year-old really likes is when Juli Inkster brings home a trophy.

With a five-stroke lead in the U.S. Women's Open and an adoring gallery rising with her every step, Inkster walked up the 18th fairway at Old Waverly Golf Club with a message for her youngest of two daughters.

This trophy is a big one.

Torn between her career and her family, tormented by a playoff loss in the Women's Open seven years ago, Inkster decided to dedicate herself to getting back to the top of her game. It paid off today with the most prized possession in women's golf.

"This is the ultimate tournament," said Inkster, who earned $315,000 from the largest purse in women's golf. "No one can take that away from me. I'm the U.S. Open champion."

It wasn't nearly as easy as the final margin might indicate.

Inkster fought off a spirited challenge from Kelli Kuehne with one clutch shot after another, closing with a 1-under 71 that gave her the lowest 72-hole score in relation to par in the 54-year history of the championship.

"You've just got to have all the arrows point in the right direction to win the U.S. Open," she said. "I probably played four of my most consistent rounds of golf that I've ever played. It's great to come out on top."

She finished at 16-under 272. The previous record was a 10-under 274 by Alison Nicholas at Pumpkin Ridge in 1997. Annika Sorenstam had an 8-under 272 at Pine Needles in 1995.

Inkster, 38, became the oldest champion since 40-year-old Fay Crocker in 1955. She also ended four years of foreign supremacy in the Women's Open.

"I'm bringing the trophy back to America," Inkster said.

Sherri Turner, who had an eagle on the 408-yard 11th hole, finished five strokes back. Kuehne made a double bogey after hitting a shot in the water on the closing hole for a 74 that left her in third place at 279.

But it was Kuehne, the 22-year-old Texan who whistled from green to tee and complimented every shot by Inkster, who put on the pressure from the opening shot.

"I knew she wouldn't give up," Inkster said. "She was really zinging it."

Fairway to green, Kuehne was flawless with every club but the putter. She gave herself eight birdie chances on the front nine, but converted only one.

And Inkster answered every challenge.

"I just told myself that I've got to have the heart to win this thing," Inkster said.

The defining moment may have been the par-3 seventh, when Inkster caught a lie in the bunker that had looked like she would be lucky to make bogey.

The ball was plugged so badly that it caused a perfect crater around it. Inkster's shoulders dropped when she walked up to the bunker and saw what she had.

"I've got a great chance to make birdie. She is probably going to make bogey," Kuehne said.

Wrong.

Shifting her feet into the sand, Inkster relied on a tip from Meg Mallon last year in the Solheim Cup -- keep the club face open, swing hard but don't follow through. The ball popped onto the green and grazed the lip for an easy tap-in.

"That was an all-world bunker shot," Inkster said.

Kuehne could only shake her head and smile. "Awesome," she told her on the next tee.

"Don't make me do that again," Inkster told her.

She didn't have to.

Kuehne lost any hope of catching Inkster by missing the 10th green with a wedge and missing a 6-foot putt for par.

When Inkster made a 4-foot birdie putt on the 13th, she had a spring in her step over the final five holes to victory.

"She was playing way too consistent to have any meltdown," Kuehne said.

The Women's Open was the fourth major championship for Inkster but her first in 10 years. Her last best chance was in the 1992 Open, when she led by two strokes with two holes to play until Patty Sheehan birdied 17 and 18, then defeated Inkster in a playoff.

"I was devastated for a long time," Inkster said.

Ironically, Inkster talked to Sheehan before she left for Mississippi.

"She said, 'Juli, go out and win this thing. It's your time to do it,' " Inkster said.

She joined Sheehan as one of only eight players to win three legs of the LPGA's modern grand slam. Inkster will go to the LPGA Championship in three weeks with a chance to join Pat Bradley as the only women to win all four.

Not long ago, Inkster thought it might be time to quit golf. She went without a victory for four years and failed to finish in the top 20 on the money list during a time when her second daughter was born in 1994.

"It's really hard to juggle both careers," she said. "Its a lot easier to think about birdies when you don't have to think about diapers."

She has been bringing Cori and 9-year-old Hayley to as many tournaments as possible, committed herself to more practice and has been on a slow but steady rise back to the top. The victory today was her third this year and 20th of her career.

Now, she may finally get credit for one of the most overlooked careers in golf.

Long before Se Ri Pak came along, Inkster won two majors as a rookie in 1984. Long before Tiger Woods, she won the U.S. Women's Amateur three years in a row.

"I don't need fanfare,'' she said. "I just want to play golf. And I want to be Mom."

 

AP


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