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South Korea's Eun Hee Ji wins LPGA's U.S. Women's Open

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — 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 birdie putt from about 20 feet on the 72nd hole to emerge from a Sunday scramble with par 71 and claim the U.S. Women's Open.

She outlasted playing partner and third-round leader Cristie Kerr, who struggled in the final round and failed in her bid for a second 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 par 284 at Saucon Valley Country Club.

Another of a legion of South Korean players who were inspired to play the game by 1998 champion Se Ri Pak, Ji (her full name is pronounced Un-hee-jee) claimed the biggest prize in golf in her second try.

She is the second straight South Korean to win the event, following Inbee Park. Countrywoman Birdie Kim took the title in 2005.

It was the 29th time in the past 36 majors that an American did not win. Fourteen different golfers have won the past 15 majors and 10 first-time winners have captured the past 11.

Ji's other LPGA Tour victory came in 2008.

Candie Kung of Taiwan had 2-under 69 and was alone in second at 1-over 285. She was on the practice green preparing for a possible playoff when Ji sank the winning putt.

Kerr led until the back nine and shot 75, tying In-Kyung Kim for third at 2-over 286.

Ji said the double bogey at the 10th had a calming effect, and that was when she tried to focus on making a run. She went on to birdie the 13th, 14th and 18th.

"Up until that point, Cristie Kerr was 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."

On No. 18 Ji drove to the center of the fairway and hit her approach about 20 feet from the pin. She steadied her shaking hands and coolly rolled the birdie try in the center of the cup.

Kung had continued a charge into contention she started in the third round when she vaulted from 37th to a tie for fifth. Her closing 69 left her at 1-over 285.

"I was going out there trying to make par all the way around," Kung said. "Par is going to be a good score by the end of the week. … Even par won the tournament."

An inch of overnight rain softened the fairways and made greens more receptive. But players continued to struggle on the speedy, undulating greens.

"Obviously, today wasn't my day," said Kerr, who had 35 putts Sunday. "Nothing went in. Even the good putts I hit didn't go in. I kind of gave it away."

At No. 16 Kerr rolled a birdie putt past the hole and missed the comebacker, the bogey dropping her to 2 over. She then missed long birdie putts at the 17th and 18th.

Seminole's Brittany Lincicome, who eagled the 72nd hole this year to win her first major, the Kraft Nabisco, placed fifth after 70 left her at 3-over 287.

Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa (72) tied for 26th at 293.Futures Tour player Jean Reynolds, in the next-to-last pairing, shot 77 for 292, calling her week "just incredible." Jennifer Song (72—291) was low amateur; another amateur, Alexis Thompson, 14, of Coral Springs shot 73 to finish at 295.

COMMISSIONER ISSUE: Veteran Juli Inkster, who is on the LPGA Tour's Board of Directors, said she expects a resolution this week and that the board will search for an interim replacement for Carolyn Bivens before hiring a new commissioner. The New York Times has reported that Bivens will step down soon.

fast facts

LPGA majors

• Kraft Nabisco Championship: April 5, Brittany Lincicome of Seminole sank a 6-foot eagle putt on No. 18 for 3-under 69 and 9-under 279 to edge Kristy McPherson of Tampa (72) and Cristie Kerr (71) by one.

• LPGA Championship: June 14, Anna Nordqvist, a rookie from Sweden playing in her fifth pro tournament, closed with 4-under 68 for a 15-under 273 total to beat Lindsey Wright (70) by four.

• U.S. Women's Open: Sunday, South Korean Eun Hee Ji hit a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to shoot par 71 and end up at par 284, beating Candie Kung (69) by a stroke.

• Women's British Open: July 30-Aug. 2, Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire, England. Last year, Jiyai Shin shot 6-under 66 for 18-under 270 and a three-shot win over Yani Tseng (66).

South Korea's Eun Hee Ji wins LPGA's U.S. Women's Open 07/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 13, 2009 12:10am]
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