IT ended in another star-spangled success. Add Stacy Lewis, the new Ricoh Women’s British Open champion, to a four-week run of American success on British soil that Phil Mickelson started in the Scottish Open, continued himself in the Open Championship, and which was then extended in the Senior Open by Mark Wiebe.
On the course where she underlined her major-winning potential by recording five points out of five in the 2008 Curtis Cup, the 28-year-old chalked up the second one of her career after staging a finish at St Andrews that was almost as dramatic as Mickelson’s at Muirfield.
Three behind Korea’s Na Yeon Choi, the halfway leader, with six holes to play – the stretch Mickelson covered in four-under a fortnight earlier – Lewis birdied the 14th, 17th and 18th for a 72 and an eight-under-par aggregate of 280.
On a day when the final few groups played two rounds after high winds wiped out all but the morning play on Saturday, Lewis won by two shots from Choi, who dropped three shots in her last holes for a closing 73, and her compatriot, Hee Young Park (70).
“I love the history of this place and feel so carefree playing here,” admitted Lewis as she savoured hitting a 5-iron to two feet at the 17th then rolling in a 25-footer at the last to follow up her 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship win. “It was an unbelievably hard day, but it’s a pretty good result. It all happened so fast at the end. You shoot a couple of birdies and suddenly it’s over.”
Choi, nicknamed “NYC” and “The Big Apple”, looked set to spread the news when the halfway leader regained top spot after American Morgan Pressel had four-putted the 12th for a double-bogey. But she floundered just as Lewis made her late thrust.
While the American, a bubbly character, was certainly a popular champion – she wore a back brace for seven-and-a-half years before undergoing major surgery to insert a steel rod into it – hopes of a home winner had been raised after Catriona Matthew staged a sensational finish to her third-round 68 after resuming it yesterday morning standing two-over.
A fine approach set up her second birdie of the week at the 17th and she then holed her approach – from 67 yards – for an eagle at the last, her ball bouncing once before disappearing into the hole for the biggest cheer of the week by far.
It left her just three shots off the pace – Pressel had taken over from Choi at the head of affairs after a morning 70 compared to the Korean’s 75 – and the 2009 winner set out feeling confident she could post a decent clubhouse target.
Alas, the North Berwick woman found a bunker with her drive at the fifth, took two to get out and eventually three-putted for a quadruple-bogey eight. Her challenge had been killed stone dead and, though joint-11th was still a decent effort, this one will be filed away as one of those “what might have been” affairs.
“I actually hit my best drive of the day down five, but it took a vicious kick right into the bunker,” she reflected. “It was kind of on the down slope, but I still shouldn’t have made a triple; I should have got out with bogey or double-bogey at worst.
“It’s annoying as it killed my momentum. After the dream finish to my third round – it’s great fun when you do something like that – I just wanted to go out there and try not to have a big number, give myself birdie chances, but obviously that didn’t work out.”
It didn’t work out, either, for Cristie Kerr and, after signing off with a 69 to finish just behind Matthew in 16th spot, the experienced American was still seething about the events on Saturday that saw her among just nine players to finish their rounds.
“Yesterday was a nightmare the call they made to delay it when they did,” claimed the two-times major winner of a scenario that saw play suspended at 12.30pm then, after a five-and-a-half hour wait to see if the wind would die, abandoned for the day. “If they deemed it unplayable when they did, then it was unplayable for two to two-and-half hours before they did it.
“Basically it took away any chances I had of getting into the top ten. The people who finished yesterday got a raw deal. The ball moved once on eight but that was really the only one and on a windy day that’s going to happen and you play it from its new position like the officials have advised us. That was the only hole it happened on.
“I just felt like they should have played for a bit and then delayed for a few hours. They certainly could have played last night from 6-9. I just don’t understand the thinking by officials sometimes because they are not consistent and they need to be.
“I was sitting having dinner and it wasn’t even windy. They got to play in no wind this morning and I would have had a chance of being in the top ten if had the chance to play this morning.
“I just hope they learn from this and be more consistent and come up with better decisions because the inconsistency kills me.”