Eun Hee Ji found surprising calm in a double-bogey and a dramatic victory with an improbable birdie.
The 23-year-old from South Korea made a lengthy birdie putt on the 72nd hole to emerge from a Sunday scramble with an even-par 71 and claim the U.S. Women’s Open.
She outlasted playing partner and third-round leader Cristie Kerr, who struggled from the outset in the final round and failed in her bid for a second Women’s Open title in three years.
“I didn’t even dream about winning this tournament, but, well, I did it, and I think this is going to be one of the most memorable moments in my life,” Ji said through an interpreter.
Ji recovered from two bogeys in her first four holes and a double-bogey at the 10th, making three birdies over the final six holes to finish at even-par 284 at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.
Another of a legion of South Korean players who were inspired to play the game by 1998 champion Se Ri Pak, Ji claimed the biggest prize in golf in just her second try. Last year, she tied for 42nd.
She is the second straight South Korean to win the event, following Inbee Park. Countrywoman Birdie Kim claimed the championship in 2005.
Candie Kung of Taiwan had a 2-under 69 and was alone in second at 1-over 285.
Despite her struggles, Kerr held the lead until the back nine and shot a 4-over 75, tying In-Kyung Kim of South Korea for third at 2-over 286.
Ji said the double-bogey at the 10th had a calming effect, and that’s when she tried to focus on making a run. She went on to make birdies at 13th, 14th and 18th.
“Up until that point, Cristie Kerr as so far ahead, I just didn’t think anyone was going to be able to catch her,” Ji said. “But after that double-bogey on No. 10, I basically cleared my mind and said let’s go and play out the rest of the round.”
She punctuated her steady back-nine run on the final hole by driving into the center of the fairway, landing her approach about 20 feet from the pin. She steadied her shaking hands and coolly rolled the birdie try into the center of the cup.
An inch of rain fell on the Old Course overnight, softening the fairways and making the greens more receptive to shots. But a steady breeze helped dry out the putting surfaces and players continued to struggle on the speedy, undulating greens.
“Obviously, today wasn’t my day,” said Kerr, who had 35 putts in the final round. “Nothing went in. Even the good putts I hit didn’t go in, and that’s kind of rough.
“You need to get that good feeling and that good momentum on the greens at the Open.”
Steve Stricker followed one of his best performances with 36 solid holes to win the John Deere Classic at Silvis, Ill., by three strokes.
Stricker, who tied the course record Saturday, fired a 7-under 64 in the fourth round after starting the day with a third-round 68 to finish at 264 for the tournament. That was good enough to give him his second PGA Tour win this year and sixth in all, not to mention a heavy dose of momentum heading into the British Open to go with the $774,000 winner’s check.
Local favorite Zach Johnson (64, 66), Brandt Snedeker (68, 65) and Brett Quigley (62, 67) all tied for second at 17 under. Quigley also qualified for the British Open.
Stricker’s biggest challenge, though, came from Tim Petrovic, who was in his group and was two strokes off the lead heading into the 36th and final hole of the day. But he hit the pond on No. 18 and double-bogeyed the hole, leaving him at 16 under along with Matt Jones (63, 69) and J.J. Henry (66, 68). Second-round leader Darron Stiles (70, 71) finished at 14 under.
Bernhard Langer chipped in for eagle on the 18th hole to win the 3M Championship at Blaine, Minn., his second straight win on the tour.
His 7-under 65 gave him a 16-under 200 for the tournament, one shot better than Andy Bean.
Standing about 3 feet off the back fringe, Langer put the ball on the edge of the green and watched it roll about 15 feet into the hole. Langer turned and pointed to the crowd with both arms raised when the ball dropped in the hole for his fourth win of the season.
Scott Hoch (66) finished two shots back. Tom Kite shot his second 67 at the TPC Twin Cities to finish fourth. Nick Price, the leader after round two, shot a 1-under 71 to finish five back.