Stacy Lewis has had a soft spot for St Andrews since the summer of 2008 when she claimed five points out of five in America’s victory over Great Britain & Ireland in the Curtis Cup over the Old Course.
Her haul remains a record in that biennial contest but this afternoon she superseded even that spectacular achievement when she closed with a level par 72 on the same historic course to claim a two shot victory over Korea’s Na Yeon Choi and Hee Young Park at the 2013 Ricoh Women’s British Open Championship.
Lewis becomes the first American to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open since Sherri Steinhauer in 2006 and ended a run that had seen Asian players Jiyai Shin (2011 and 2012) and Yani Tseng (2010) claim the title in the last three years.
Indeed the American’s win ended a sequence of ten consecutive Asian victories in the women’s Majors which had started after Lewis herself won her first Major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship back in 2011 and stretched right through to last month when Inbee Park claimed her third Major title of the season at the US Women’s Open.
Lewis came to St Andrews having failed to claim a top-25 finish at any of the season’s previous three Major Championships but the World No. 2 quickly got into her stride with an opening five under par 67 and then added rounds of 72 and 69 to go into the final round on eight under par 208 and just a single shot behind compatriot Morgan Pressel.
The American started the final round by dropping shots at both the 400-yard par-4 2nd and the 406-yard par-4 4th but then got them back with birdies at the 369-yard par-4 6th and the 353-yard par-4 7th to go out in level par 36.
When Lewis went on to drop two further shots on the 160-yard par-3 11th and the 314-yard par-4 12th nearest rival Choi briefly held a two shot lead but the Korean dropped shots of her own on the 407-yard par-4 13th and the 520-yard par-5 14th and then lost the initiative altogether when the American produced a grandstand finish with spectacular birdies on both the 443-yard par-4 17th and 357-yard par-4 18th holes.
“This is just crazy,” said the new champion, whose success as a professional golfer is all the more meritorious because for seven years, from the age of 11, she had to wear a back brace 18 hours a day in order to correct a curvature in her spine caused by scoliosis. During high school she also underwent surgery to insert a rod and five screws into her back and it still troubles her from time to time.
“I was just hanging in there all day and 17 and 18 happened so fast that I don’t know if it has really hit me yet. My patience won it for me today. It was just so hard. The wind was brutal. I never thought for a second that birdieing the last two holes was even possible.”
The new champion went on to say that her love for St Andrews had also been a contributory factor in her success.
“When we came here for the Curtis Cup, we got here in the morning and in was raining sideways but we all put on Jane jackets and rain gear and just walked around.
“Instantly I just fell in love with it. I think it’s more the history of it than anything, just knowing all the great champions have played here. I mean, golf was started here.
“I love this golf course more than any other links course I’ve played,” she added. “You can get rewarded for good shots. There’s not any crazy bunkers right in the dead centre of the fairways. You can at least kind of play round things and get rewarded for good shots.
“I think I was happy being here all week, and I was comfortable and I think that’s a lot of the reason I’m here right now.”
Lewis finished two shots ahead of Choi and Park on 8-under par 280 and a further one shot in front of Pressel and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen. America’s Lizette Salas closed with a 73 to finish alone in sixth place on three under par 285 while Japanese duo Mamiko Higa and Miki Saiki were tied seventh on 286. The leading British player was 2009 champion, Catriona Matthew, from North Berwick, who shot 68 in the delayed third round but then fell back with a closing 78 to finish in a tie for 11th place on level par 288.
Inbee Park’s bid for the fourth leg of an historical Grand Slam came to an end when she closed with rounds of 74 and 78 for a six over par total of 294.
“It was a tough day today,” admitted the World No. 1. “I really got off to a bad start when I 4-putted the 1st hole.
“I’m just glad the tournament is over because I’ve gone through four rounds under pressure. Everybody has been watching me. It feels a bit weird because I get to do an interview when I shot 6-over par today.
“It’s a bit of a relief it’s over,” she added. “It’s something I’ve never experienced before. It’s been a great experience. I might not have won this week but I’ve learned a lot.
“The weather and the mother of nature has to be on your side if you’re going to win the British Open and it didn’t happen for me.”
The Smyth Salver, awarded to the leading amateur at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, was shared between New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and England’s Georgia Hall after both players finished the Championship on six over par 294.
World No. 1 amateur, Ko, also won the Smyth Salver last year at Royal Liverpool where she put together rounds of 72, 71, 76 and 78 to finish two shots ahead of England’s Holly Clyburn on nine over par 297.
The only other time the amateur prize was shared was back in 1993 before the Championship was a Major when England’s Joanne Morley and Patricia Meunier from France tied on 297 at Woburn G & CC.
Ko, Morley (1989 and 1993) and Scotland’s Bell Robertson (1980 and 1981) are the only three players to win the Smyth Salver twice.