This is how she won it in her dreams, a birdie-birdie finish at the home of golf to claim the Ricoh British Women’s Open. Pinch me. Tell me I didn’t imagine that. No she didn’t. Stacy Lewis survived a 36-hole slog in winds stiff enough to make the flags scream to claim her second major title.
What a moment for the young American, what a week for the women’s game. Like the final afternoon at the Open at Muirfield a fortnight ago, victory called out to half-a-dozen players. And just as Phil Mickelson seized the initiative there, so did Lewis blow the doors off St Andrews to take the crown.
This might not have been the grand slam finale history demanded, but even Inbee Park, she of the three successive majors this season, could hardly have fashioned a more explosive denouement. Lewis, 28, was two-down when she teed up at the Road Hole 17th. If she was going to give her rivals pause she needed to nick at least one back against par. To do so at arguably the most celebrated hole in the game was impressive enough, to snake a 30-footer downhill at the last for another was the stuff of myth.
“It all happened so fast at the end. You are fighting for every shot then all of a sudden you make a couple of birdies and it’s all over,” Lewis said. “I love this golf course. I have played so many rounds on it. I felt so comfortable here. It almost felt like it was meant to be.”
Lewis, who had been four behind at one point in an oscillating afternoon, knows all about prevailing against the odds. As a child she was forced to wear a brace to counter curvature of her spine. The only time she was not strapped into her harness was on the golf course. At 18 she underwent surgery to keep the scoliosis from dominating her life. Lewis still walks with a steel plate in her back, held together by five screws.
She was five under par for the opening 36 holes and critically three under in the worst of the conditions, and ended up posting a final-round score of 72 to finish eight under par. The tournament was not won but there was talk about a birdie in the hand. Na Yeon Choi was still on the course. With six to play the South Korean held a three-shot lead. There had been no sign of frailty on a day that began at 6.15am after Saturday’s weather suspension. Then again, the run for home, wedged alongside what was an old railway line back into town, is a brute when the wind is up. It proved too much for the Korean, who had to settle for a share of second place with Park, two shots back.
Lewis switched off her alarm at 4.30am, so long ago she could hardly remember how the day began. Though it is hard to pick out the one shot that won the Open, the five-iron into the 17th was, she claimed, as good a shot as she has hit in her life. “One of the best of my career. I thought if I could get to seven under it might be good enough to force a play-off. On 18 my caddie and I said one more. I knew eight under in these conditions would be hard to beat.”
Lewis’s win breaks a run of successive majors won by Asian golfers. The last non-Asian to claim a big one was Lewis herself with her first major triumph two years ago at the Kraft Nabisco. So the world No 2 eclipsed the only woman in the game who stands above her, the phenomenon that is Park.
If Park had any hopes of overturning a 10-shot deficit at the start of play they went with the double bogey at the first. She was six under after 10 and thereafter began the slide that forced her off the pages of history. Park is one of three to have claimed a hat-trick of majors in a season. Not a bad haul to fall back on when the disappointment of St Andrews has subsided.