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DeCock: Perfect finish to an unprecedented showcase for golf

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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PINEHURST It was the only way this could end, two unprecedented weeks of golf that will never be replicated and may never even be tried again. It had to be Michelle Wie.

The U.S. Open was memorable for Martin Kaymer’s dominance, if not for an excess of drama. Relatively speaking, the Women’s Open was an even bigger deal for the women, playing Pinehurst No. 2 immediately after the men.

Here, at one of the cornerstones of golf in the United States, only an American champion would suffice. This ground-breaking event demanded a breakthrough winner.

Wie delivered both Sunday, as only she could.

After walking down the 18th fairway with Kaymer a week ago, Wie had a triumphant walk of her own Sunday. How badly did the 24-year-old want this? When she sat back down after her remarks to the crowd, she grabbed the trophy off the table and held it in her lap.

“The course is spectacular,” Wie said. “I think winning on the same golf course that Payne Stewart won means so much to me, as well. There’s so much history to this golf course. The fact that I can be part of that history, it’s just so cool. I feel so honored.”

Wie made it far more interesting than Kaymer, with a blow-up double bogey on the 16th hole that sent red-hot Stacy Lewis out to the driving range to prepare for a possible playoff. But Wie held it together on the final two holes, cementing her position as the only player to finish the tournament under par and win by two strokes.

After Wie’s birdie on 17, it was all over but the shouting, although there was plenty of it: For Juli Inkster, 53 years old, in contention in her 35th and final Women’s Open. For Lucy Li, the 11-year-old who missed the cut but spent the weekend walking with Wie. And for Wie, whose popularity has long outstripped her success, at least until this weekend.

She stared down Lewis and the leaderboard just as she stared down the expectations that have accompanied her entire career. She came into the weekend talking about having fun and whatever happened would happen. And yet she displayed an obvious maturity that suggested her time may finally have come. It had.

“It was a matter of time,” Lexi Thompson said.

“You couldn’t script this any better,” Lewis said.

“It was all worth it,” Wie said.

It may have been the greatest Women’s Open of all time. It was without question the most unique. No one would ever forget this fortnight anyway, but Wie’s victory was a fitting conclusion.

“It can’t get a lot better,” Pinehurst Resort and Country Club owner Bob Dedman said. “We have two great champions. They’re both young and they both played phenomenal golf. Martin Kaymer, I don’t think we appreciate how good he played. Years from now, we’ll be talking about it – 65 the first two rounds, when no one else was doing it? It was impressive.

“And give Michelle Wie credit, she played a conservative game today but she played her game and got around. Two young champions: He’s 29, she’s 24 and they’re going to be around golf for quite a while.”

Dedman, standing in the twilight on the 18th green, was both giddy and exhausted for good reason. Pinehurst proved an ideal venue for this grand experiment and Kaymer, Wie and Donald Ross ensured it was truly memorable – Kaymer with his dominance, Wie with her long-awaited breakthrough, and Ross with a 107-year-old golf course that still comes out a winner every time.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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