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Young Korean wins U.S. Women's Open

EDINA, Minn. — Inbee Park woke up in the middle of the night in 1998 when she heard cheering from the living room of her tiny apartment outside Seoul.

Her parents were up at 3 a.m. to watch 20-year-old Se Ri Pak become the first South Korean and youngest golfer to win the U.S. Women's Open. The 9-year-old sat down with them to watch, half asleep but paying attention.

"When she made a putt, they were screaming," Park said. "So I really could not sleep."

Two days later, she placed her hands around a golf club for the first time.

And about 10 years later, Park wrapped her hands around the biggest trophy in women's golf, capturing the U.S. Women's Open (and her first LPGA event) with nearly flawless golf over the final 10 holes.

"I didn't know anything about golf back then, but I was watching her," Park said Sunday.

"It was very impressive for a little girl. I just thought that I could do it, too."

Just 13 days before her 20th birthday, Park pulled away with crucial putts on three consecutive holes for 2-under 71 and a four-shot win over Helen Alfredsson.

Park was the only player among the final nine groups to break par. She finished at 9-under 283 then got soaked when countrywomen Jeong Jang and I.K. Kim rushed onto the green and doused her with beer.

"I can't believe I just did this, especially with all these big names on the trophy that have been very, very successful," Park said. "Hopefully, I'll put a couple of my names on there. It will be great."

It was a shocker for everyone else — but for different reasons.

Alfredsson began the final round tied with Park, two shots out of the lead, and hoping to atone for her collapse 14 years ago in the U.S. Women's Open, when she took 35 putts in a final-round 75.

"She played fantastic," said Alfredsson, who played with Park. "She was very calm, never changed anything. And really, that's very impressive for a 19-year-old. She's going to win a lot more."

Stacy Lewis, trying to become the first player to win a major in her pro debut, started Sunday with the lead but double-bogeyed from 80 yards in front of the green on the par-5 No. 2. She shot 78 to tie for third.

"I finished third at the U.S. Open, my first pro event," Lewis said. "It's kind of hard to be upset."

Paula Creamer, who entered Sunday one back of the lead, had two double bogeys on the front nine for 41 and shot 78.

"It's probably the most disappointed I've been in a very long time," said Creamer, whose final round scoring average at the U.S. Women's Open is 75.2.

Park was the only player to break par all four days at Interlachen, a course that showed its strength in the final round with a 20 mph wind that made it tough to keep on the right side of the hole.

The lowest score Sunday belonged to 15-year-old Jessica Korda, the daughter of 1998 Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda, who caddied for her. She shot 69 to finish tied for 19th.

Park became the third player in the past six years to make the U.S. Women's Open her first LPGA Tour victory, and it was reminiscent of Birdie Kim's victory three years ago at Cherry Hills, minus the dramatic bunker shot for birdie on the 72nd hole. She continued international dominance of the LPGA majors as Americans have won only six of the past 31.

Up by two when Lewis bogeyed the eighth and ninth, Park poured it on. She made a 10-foot birdie at No. 11, saved par from the bunker with an 8-footer at No. 12 and made a 6-foot birdie at No. 13.

"Everything happened so fast. It's scary," Park said. "I really tried to stay calm, but it was so exciting, I couldn't do it. This is my day."

Park's mother, Song Kim, was with her at Interlachen, but her father could not make it.

"My dad almost was going to fly to this event (Saturday)," Park said. "But I'm like, 'No, it's okay. Stay home. You can watch TV.' "

Just like 10 years ago.

Annika at the Open

Annika Sorenstam, 37, in her final season, holed out a 6-iron from 199 yards for eagle on the par-5 18th on Sunday. Her U.S. Women's Opens:

1992Tie 64th

1993DNP

1994DNP

1995Won

1996Won

1997Cut

1998Tie 41st

1999Cut

2000Tie ninth

2001Tie 16th

2002Second

2003Fourth

2004Second

2005Tie 23rd

2006Won

2007Tie 32nd

2008Tie 24th

Young Korean wins U.S. Women's Open 06/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 6:13pm]

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