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For the second tune in 22 years, Juli Inkster won a USGA championship on the fabled Prairie Dunes Golf Club course in Hutchinson, Kan., securing the 2002 U.S. Women's Open and the $535,000 prize that goes along with it.

The 42-yearold Inkster won the 1980 Women's Amateur there as Juli Simpson Inkster.

In a final round that didn't lack emotion or drama, Inkster charged past Annika Sorenstarn with a 4-under-par 66 for an overall 4-under 276 to win by two strokes. They were then only two players under par for the championship. In the process, Inkster tied a Womens Open record for lowest score by a champion in a final round, also held by Pat Bradley (1980) and Sorenstam (1996).

Inkster became the second-coldest Women's Open champion, behind only Mildred Didrickson "Babe" Zaharias. She is the first female player over 40 to win since Fay Crocker in 1955. The last American to win was Inkster in 1999 at Old Waverly.

As she made the walk up No. 18, she twirled her visor to the gallery's chants of ĎU.S.A! USA!'. When she dropped in the final putt for par, Inkster hugged her caddie, playing partner Shani Waugh and met husband Brian Inkster for a long embrace. "there was so much adrenaline there:" said Inkster.

Inkster couldn't celebrate entirely because Sorenstam (three birdies and three bogeys), playing in the final group after beginning Sunday with a two-stroke advantage, still had to complete the final hole two shots behind. When Sorenstam s approach missed the hole wide left, an ecstatic Inkster punched in her parents' number on a cell phone.

Coming into Sunday, Inkster had been unsure about her swing and said a low round under par would be needed to topple the normally unswerving Sorenstam. Inkster stayed in contention mostly because of her short iron game. She wasn't hit ting many fairways -just a bit more than 60 percent through three rounds.

Fifteen minutes before teeing off Sunday, Inkster discovered something on the range that made her feel comfortable. On her last dozen balls, "something clicked:" It clicked so well that she nailed 86 percent of the fairways, setting up each of her five birdies.

Inkster pulled within a stroke with a birdie on the second hole.

Four holes later, on No. 6, a 372-yard par 4 dogleg left, Inkster tied Sorenstam. Landing in the first cut of rough off her drive, Inkster grabbed a pitching wedge and came up 65 feet short, right of the hole off the green. Her chip hit once and broke right and came back- until falling in line and disappearing into the hole. She pumped her fist.

"It's a short hole on a course where you're thinking you don't get too many chances for birdie, so you're thinking birdie, and when I hit it in the rough, now I'm thinking par," said Inkster. "It was huge. Any time you make a birdie it's huge, but to make birdie from the rough, it was huge.'

After trading birdies on No. 7 to remain tied, Sorenstam blinked first. At the 412, yard par-4 8th, Sorenstatn's approach landed well short of the elevated green. She two-putted from 12 feet to card a bogey.

The lead was Inkster's and she would never relinquish it. Inkster went 10 4 under when she drained a downhill 8-footer on No. 11.

After using a 5-iron to hit to a spot well left of the green on the 175 yard par-3 15th, only inches away from a plastic wire covering, Inkster was aware Sorenstam was putting on No. 14, which could be seen from a distance. Waugh saw Sorenstam make the putt for birdie but displayed little emotion, believing it would have disrupted Inkster's concentration.

Inkster chipped 11 feet past the hole and knocked in the putt to a "Whew!" and animated right fist pump. Even if it was only for par, it was a critical moment in the championship.

"I didn't know Annika birdied 14," said Inkster. "I figured I needed to make the putt for par to keep the lead."

The next sequence of events all but secured the title. Sorenstan, on No. 15, again had to get up and down to save par. This time site had a horrible lie. But she chipped up to within three feel of the hole. Then she missed the putt to fall back to 2 under.

In the meantime, Inkster's approach with a 7 iron stopped 21 feet short of the left-centered flagstick on No. 16. Surveying the line several times, she tapped it in to go 5 under. Once the hall dropped, she gave four hard right fist pumps, adding more authority to each one.

"It was electrifying," said Inkster, who tookjust 25 putts in each of the last two rounds.

Taking a last stab, Sorenstam birdied No. 17 to get to within two. By then, it was too late.

"I think I made one bad swing, and that was at 16," said Sorenstarn, of an 8-iron chip that led to a two-putt for bogey and knocked her back to 1 under. "I told my caddie, `That was a tired swing."'

Nearly an hour after turning in her card, Inkster was left to reflect on the importance of the championship. She won the U.S. Women's Amateur three years in a row, from 1980-1982. Ten years later she would lose a heartbreaking playoff to Patty Sheehan by one stroke in the 1992 Women's Open. It wasn't until 1999 She would know what winning the Women's Open would feel like.

For Inkster, picking one over another is difficult to do.

"It's hard to believe 22 years have passed, but I would still say probably my greatest accomplishment is winning those three U.S. Womenís Amateurs in a row because itís so hard to do," said Inkster. "As far as overall, I would say [this Womenís Open victory] is up there. As far as the pressure and the conditions and what was at stake, I would say itís probably No. 1. It is right now."


Starts - 29

Best Finish - Winner 1999 & 2002

Rds - 101

Cuts Made - 21

Top 3 - 3

Top 5 - 3

Top 10 - 6

Top 25 - 12

Avg. - 73.68

Scores In 60s - 12

Rds Under Par - 19

Earnings - $1,299,168.28
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