PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Michelle Wie followed Martin Kaymer to victory at Pinehurst No. 2.
First literally, then figuratively.
When Kaymer made his leisurely stroll up the 18th fairway seven days earlier on his way to sealing the U.S. Open, Wie walked right along with his pairing as a spectator.
“I thought to myself, I want to be here on Sunday,” Wie said. “I want to feel this exact thing.”
A week later, she did.
And now Kaymer and Wie will be forever linked as the champions of Pinehurst’s first-of-its-kind double-dip of U.S. Opens.
Wie’s two-stroke victory over top-ranked Stacy Lewis on Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open came with a little more stress than Kaymer’s nine-shot romp – especially after Wie’s double bogey on the 16th.
But her long birdie putt a hole later effectively locked it up, and turned her walk up the final fairway into something to savor.
“I walked (the previous) Sunday with Rickie (Fowler) and Martin. I wanted so badly to be in that position, just to kind of have a leisurely walk up to 18 and make a par to win kind of thing,” Wie said. “And I feel so lucky. … It felt so special. I kind of wish I could do it over and over again, it’s just so much fun.”
This was the big victory the sport had been waiting for – maybe even needed.
“I don’t think you can script it any better,” Lewis said. “I think it’s great for the game of golf. I think it’s even better for women’s golf. … This has been such a long time coming for her.”
No longer is Wie that precocious pre-teen prodigy who qualified for her first pro event as a 12-year-old and competed against the men on the PGA Tour.
Now, she’s all grown up, with four career victories on her resume. She’s No. 1 on the LPGA’s money list, the tour’s biggest star.
And she finally has a major trophy to go with it all.
“U.S. Opens have been such a special part of my life, just because I get to see everyone again,” Wie said. “It’s like seeing old family and friends. But, yeah, just everything kind of what I’ve been through, all the ups and all the downs, this is definitely, it’s all worth it.”
A win that seemed a certainty for most of the day – she took sole possession of the lead after her second hole – came into doubt for a while on the 16th.
With a three-stroke lead, she hit a hybrid from a fairway bunker that wound up in a wiregrass bush. That led her to take a penalty drop behind her in the fairway and led to what she said was “a tinge of panic.”
She chipped on to about 35 feet, then pushed her bogey putt 5 feet past the hole.
A miss would have left her tied with Lewis.
“It was pretty scary. I gave myself a nice heart attack,” Wie said. “I think I aged about 10 years in a span of 15 minutes there.”
She made it.
And on the next hole, she locked up the victory.
Wie plopped her 8-iron safely onto the 17th green and sank the birdie putt that restored her two-stroke lead, punctuating it with a fist pump.
Unlike the day before – when a four-shot lead slipped away – there would be no collapse for Wie.
Lewis, the No. 1 player in women’s golf, kept the pressure on by making eight birdies during a 66 that matched the best round of the tournament.
She was on the practice range preparing for a playoff when her caddie told her that Wie made the putt on 17.
“I thought with the pressure of a major and the way this golf course played, I thought I had a chance,” Lewis said.
Wie began the day tied with Amy Yang at 2-under. But once she claimed sole possession of the lead – on Yang’s double bogey on the second hole – she never let go of it.
Wie reeled off eight straight pars before an eagle on the par-5 10th gave her some breathing room – which, it turned out, came in handy after her struggles on 16.
Wie – who finished at 2-under 278 – was the only player to wind up under par this week, the last in an unprecedented, two-week test of the Donald Ross-designed masterpiece of a course in the North Carolina sandhills.
“If you let me write a script about how I would dream it to go, that’s how it went,” said Dan Burton, the chair of the USGA’s championship committee. “Just an absolutely wonderful two weeks, great golf. I think we achieved every objective we could have possibly set out to enumerate.”
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap