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For Inkster, It's a Very Special Victory

Golf: She shoots a 66 to beat Sorenstam by two strokes and win the U.S. Women's Open.

July 08, 2002|From Associated Press

HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Juli Inkster whipped the Kansas crowd into a frenzy at every turn Sunday in the U.S. Women's Open, the cheers becoming more deafening with every crucial putt she made.

When the greatest round in her Hall of Fame career was over and her second Open title was all but assured, she jogged up the hill next to the 18th green, slapping hands with a gallery that was crowding around her.

Some of them were at Prairie Dunes when Inkster, then a 20-year-old newlywed, won the first of her three consecutive U.S. Women's Amateur titles.

Twenty-two years and two daughters later, she is just as tough, just as tenacious and still packs a short game that ranks among the best.

"This one was a lot tougher, but a lot more satisfying," Inkster said after closing with a four-under 66 for a two-stroke victory over Annika Sorenstam.

"The crowd was phenomenal, and I fed off that," she said. "To beat the best player in the world, you don't get an opportunity to do that often.

"This is pretty sweet."

Facing a two-stroke deficit against the most dominant player in the game, Inkster won the U.S. Women's Open by matching the best closing round by a champion in the 57-year history of the championship.

"As far as the pressure and the conditions and what was at stake, I'd say it's probably No. 1," she said of her final round. "It is right now."

Even more impressive is that Inkster had been struggling with her swing all week, keeping alive her chances with grit and determination, not to mention a putter that she needed only 25 times each of the last two rounds.

"When Juli birdied the second hole, the look on her face ... I just knew Annika was going to have to shoot under par to win," playing partner Shani Waugh said.

Sorenstam, a winner in six of her first 12 events, finished with an even-par 70 and shot par or better all four rounds. It wasn't enough.

"I did everything I could," Sorenstam said. "I think I played great golf. Juli played excellent. She really outplayed me. There was nothing I could do. I gave it all, and I'm happy about that."

Inkster finished at 276 and earned $535,000, the largest payoff in women's golf. She has won seven majors, the most among active players.

Sorenstam had a two-under 278, a score that figured to win. Her chances slipped away, though, when Inkster made a 15-foot par putt, then made a 12-footer for birdie on the 16th.

Sorenstam followed with two consecutive bogeys and her fading hopes ended when she drove into the rough on No. 18.

Inkster became the second-oldest player to win a major--Babe Zaharias was 43 when she won the Women's Open in 1954.

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