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Unlikely Birdie soars to crown



Published: Mon, June 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The 23-year-old South Korean outdueled American teen Morgan Pressel.

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) -- She gave herself the nickname "Birdie" to distinguish herself from the other women on the LPGA Tour. All it took was one shot -- one spectacular birdie from the bunker -- to make Birdie Kim a most unlikely U.S. Women's Open champion Sunday.

Going shot-for-shot with 17-year-old Morgan Pressel in a tense duel at Cherry Hills, the 23-year-old South Korean was trying to get close for par when she holed a 30-yard bunker shot from across the 18th green, raising her arms as the ball disappeared in the back of the cup.

Pressel, poised to become the youngest major champion in golf history, was walking up the fairway in the group behind when she saw the reaction of the record gallery. She put both hands over her head in disbelief, realizing her dream of winning was all but gone.

"It was like, 'I can't believe that actually just happened,' " Pressel said when asked for her reaction.

No Grand Slam

Kim's victory put an end to Annika Sorenstam's pursuit of a Grand Slam, and it put the kids in their place.

Even so, her victory might have been even more shocking than teenagers in contention at the most prestigious event in women's golf.

In two years on the LPGA Tour, she had made only 10 cuts in 34 starts and only once had finished in the top 10. Her career earnings were a meager $79,832.

One shot that ranks among the most dramatic in a major changed everything.

Kim finished at 3-over 287 and earned $560,000, the biggest payoff in women's golf.

She closed with a 1-over 72 to win by two shots over a pair of teenage amateurs -- Pressel, who went for broke on her birdie chip at the 18th and made bogey for a 75; and 19-year-old Brittany Lang, who missed an 8-foot par putt on the final hole for a 71.

Lone birdie

Kim made the only birdie on the 18th hole in two days, a 459-yard par 4 that requires a daunting tee shot over water and an uphill climb the final 180 yards.

"I can't believe it," she said. "I don't think I was going to make it. I was trying my best to make par."

Sorenstam, the dominant player in golf, was never a factor. She tried to drive the first green and instead hit a tree and went into the creek, making bogey. She would up with a 77 to finish at 12-over 296, the first time in four years Sorenstam shot over par in a 72-hole event.

"Just didn't happen," she said.

Pressel's peers were not up to the challenge either. Fifteen-year-old Michelle Wie shot 42 on the front nine on her way to an 82, while 18-year-old Paula Creamer made two double bogeys and a triple bogey to shoot 79.

Name change

The U.S. Women's Open champion went by her given name, Ju-Yun Kim, as a rookie last year, but decided to use "Birdie" this season to stand out from the other five players with Kim as a surname on the LPGA Tour.

"I wanted something different, something simple and easy," she said at the start of the season. "Birdie is good in golf, and it's good for me."

It was better than she ever imagined on a sun-baked afternoon at Cherry Hills, which ultimately came down to a battle for survival. This was the first time the Women's Open champion was over par since 1998 at Blackwolf Run, when Se Ri Pak won in a playoff after finishing at 6 over.

This one looked destined for a playoff.

Separated by one group, Kim and Pressel were tied at 4 over with two holes to play. Both gave themselves a good chance at birdie on the par-5 17th, missing from about 20 feet.

With Pressel in the fairway behind her, Kim needed to get up-and-down for any chance of a playoff -- a tall order considering she ranked 141st in sand saves coming into the Open.

But the shot came out clean, checked slightly and rode the slope toward the hole.

Pressel, who stayed in contention as fellow teens Wie and Creamer wilted, chipped well past the hole. She tossed her wedge at the bag, removed her glove and slapped it against her thigh.

Crouching behind the green after it was over, she wiped away tears. Sorenstam came out of the clubhouse and gave Pressel a long hug before she went to sign her card.

It was a stunning conclusion to a brutal final round in which the field averaged 76.1 and there was only one round under par, a 69 by Lorie Kane of Canada.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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