PINEHURST Michelle Wie is the U.S. Women’s Open champion.
Let that sink in for a few seconds, if you will, because Wie sure likes the sound of it.
“I don’t think that will ever get old,” she said Sunday, breaking into a big smile.
Wie no longer is the girl who once played against the guys, the child prodigy from Honolulu. She’s no longer the 17-year-old who walked off the course in tears at the Women’s Open seven years ago, or the one whose name seemed to carry more magic than her golf game.
She’s finally done it, won a big one, a major championship. Let the toasts begin. Wie, at 24, has proven that she can handle the pressure, the heat, in the final round of the biggest tournament in women’s golf.
For Wie, an even-par 70 at Pinehurst No. 2 gave her a 2-under 278 total and made her a two-shot winner over Stacy Lewis, who surged into contention with a 66. Stephanie Meadow of Northern Ireland, making her professional debut at 22, was third at 281 after a 69.
“It’s a dream come true,” Wie said. “I feel extremely, extremely lucky.”
Despite a scary double-bogey at the 16th hole, it was a rock-solid round for Wie on a course that first tested the best men’s golfers in the world in the U.S. Open, then the best of women’s golf a week later.
A birdie at the 17th hole, after the big slip at the 16th, had Wie pumping her fist. All that was left was the 18th and a par that had her lifting her arms in victory.
Wie again was in tears. Tears of joy this time.
“She looked at me and said, ‘What a great feeling it is, the history of this place, all the amazing fans. Awesome,’ ” said Duncan French, Wie’s caddie.
Back-to-back Opens produced a German champion in Martin Kaymer, who won by an impressive eight shots. Wie’s victory gave the United States an American champion to cheer.
“I felt proud being in contention, having a chance for an American to win,” Wie said.
Wie shared a four-shot lead with Amy Yang of South Korea after the third round and shook off a bogey at the first hole. An early test was at the par-4 fourth, where Wie bunkered her drive and hit a poor second. She hit a 9-iron 31/2 feet feet from the pin and knocked in a side hill putt for par, and Yang three-putted for bogey.
At the par-5 10th, Wie easily reached the green in two and drained the eagle putt, thrusting out a fist. She was 3-under for the tournament, four shots ahead.
But the world’s top-ranked golfer was lurking. Lewis, not heard from since a first-round 67, was playing six groups ahead of Wie and Yang – and making birdies.
Lewis had eight birdies in all, the final two at the 17th and 18th holes to match the low round of the Women’s Open.
“I thought I had a chance. I knew how hard those last holes were playing,” Lewis said.
At the par-4 16th, Wie’s second shot bounced into the base of a bush near a bunker. For a few minutes, no one could find the ball.
“There was a tinge of panic,” Wie said. “I think I aged 10 years in a span of 15 minutes.”
French spotted the ball, and Wie took a one-shot penalty for an unplayable lie. She put her next shot on the green but needed to hole a 5-footer for her 6 to keep the lead.
“Nothing really rattles her too much,” French said. “She shook it off pretty quickly.”
Wie hit a cut 8-iron at the 17th. She faced a double-breaking 25-foot putt, but she hunched over the ball – in her now-trademark putting stance – and made it.
“With that kind of pressure, one of the best putts I’ve made in my life,” she said.
Most know Wie’s golf story. At 10, she qualified for the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. At 12, she was the youngest to qualify for an LPGA event and she played in the 2002 Sony Open, a PGA Tour event, missing the cut by a shot.
Wie also was making her mark in majors. She had two top-10 finishes in the Kraft Nabisco. She contended in the U.S. Women’s Open in 2005 and 2006, tying for third in ’06.
Wie then went through a dark period in her career. In the 2007 Women’s Open at Pine Needles, she withdrew with a wrist injury, sobbing as she left.
“People doubted me and I doubted myself,” she said.
She went to college. Her years at Stanford helped her mature, changed her perspective.
“She became her own independent person,” Lewis said. “She’s having fun, she’s taken ownership of her game.”
A victory this year in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii was Wie’s first on the LPGA Tour since 2010, and she was the runner-up in the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco. By the time she came to Pinehurst, she was 11th in the Rolex world rankings.
Wie was on hand to see Kaymer finish off the U.S. Open, saying the 18th-hole scene in the final round gave her goosebumps.
“I said that’s where I want to be Sunday,” Wie said.
And so she was. The U.S. Women’s Open champion.
Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip
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