No one can ask Cristie Kerr when she’ll win a major championship anymore.
The 29-year-old Miami, Fla., native held off Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, with a final-round, 1-under-par 70 at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., to register a two-stroke victory at the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open and finally claim that elusive major prize.
Kerr played 6-under-par golf over the final 36 holes of a marathon weekend to post a 72-hole score of 279 (five under). Her previous best finish in the Women’s Open was co-runner-up in 2000.
The 25-year-old Ochoa, who had won three LPGA tournaments in 2007 prior to the Women’s Open, posted an even-par 71 to share second place with 18-year-old tour rookie Angela Park of Brazil at 281. Park, who had the 18- and 36-hole leads, shot a 70 for her third sub-par round of the championship.
Se Ri Pak of Korea, the 1998 Women’s Open champion, and 2002 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion In-Bee Park, also of Korea, shared fourth at 282. Those were the only five players under par for the championship.
“Just everything this year has been pointing to this tournament,” said Kerr, who had been winless in 2007. “I hadn’t played great coming out of the box on the LPGA Tour and as of late, I’ve just really worked hard on my game. I was going to win this tournament this week.”
Early Sunday, Kerr put the finishing touches on a weather-delayed, third-round 66, the lowest round of the competition. After a two-hour break between rounds, she got recharged for the biggest 18 holes of her career. While she fought her swing and nerves, her putter never cooled off – she ranked third for the championship at 1.57 putts per green.
Even a bogey at the eighth – her approach found a greenside bunker – that pushed Kerr back into a firstplace tie with Ochoa at four under didn’t unravel her.
Instead, the two competitors matched each other shot for shot until the par-4 14th, when Kerr made a 24-foot birdie putt. That difficult 426-yard dogleg-right hole, which played to a stroke average of 4.435 (third toughest), only yielded four birdies the entire round and just 11 for the week.
“I hit an amazing shot on 14,” said Kerr. “And, yeah, I’ve been walking in putts all week. That was a pretty darn good one.”
Ochoa never had an answer, hitting poor drives at the par-5 15th – it led to a par – and par-4 17th, which led to her only bogey of the second nine. Kerr, meanwhile, made a clutch 7-foot par putt on No. 16 to keep the pressure on her pursuers and her momentum going.
With a two-shot lead at the 72nd hole, Kerr calmly found the fairway and green, then two-putted for par to take the title. She immediately dropped to her knees, emotional tears of joy flowing out of her eyes.
“You hate to finish on a bogey, especially as hard as I fought through the round with my swing and everything,” said Kerr of her mindset at 18. “So it was just really special [and] hard to fight back the tears. I saw it all week. The same scene. And it happened. So it’s pretty amazing.”
For Ochoa, it was another disappointment, one she handled again with class and dignity.
“I don’t need to be frustrated,” said Ochoa. “I’m just happy to be in this position that I’m giving myself a chance to win my first major. We still have one more [in July], so I’m going to try to get that one.”
As for Kerr, Pine Needles once again proved to be a favorable venue. Eleven years ago, she was the low amateur at the inaugural Women’s Open held here. Then in 2001, she shared fourth place. Now she’s a champion in the third Women’s Open on the Donald Ross layout.
“Just some things are meant to happen,” said Kerr. “I felt like that when I came here in ’96 and was low amateur. I played great here in 2001, the last time we had the U.S. [Women’s] Open here. I finished [tied for] fourth.”