A thunderbolt of a birdie for champion Birdie Kim on a 30-yard blast from the sand into the cup at the brutally difficult 18th hole Sunday led to tears of joy from the 23-year-old South Korean and tears of frustration from Morgan Pressel, the only teen angel still in contention, in a dramatic final round of the 60th U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills Country Club.
Seven players named Kim teed off here on Thursday, but a virtual unknown who played under the name Ju Yun Kim last year was the last one standing and raising the silver Open trophy over her head with a two-shot victory. Ranked 141st on the LPGA Tour in sand saves this season, Kim's winning shot from a deep greenside bunker while Pressel watched from the 18th fairway allowed her to post a round of 72 and 3-over 287 and earned her $560,000, the largest check of her life.
Pressel, a 17-year-old South Floridian who played in her first Open at age 13, and Kim were tied at 4 over through their first 17 holes and amateur Brittany Lang was in the clubhouse at 5-over 289. Kim's winning shot was reminiscent of another birdie from the sand at the 72nd hole to win a major championship. Bob Tway did it to beat Greg Norman in the 1986 PGA Championship at Inverness in Toledo. Asked if she'd ever heard of Tway, Kim said: "I have heard the name. He's an old guy, right?"
And why did she pick the name Birdie?
"The LPGA has a lot of last names Kim," she said in halting English.
"Everybody can't remember the names. I wanted to make a special name."
Annika Sorenstam's attempt to make it a special summer by winning the third leg of the Grand Slam essentially ended when she bogeyed her first two holes on the way to a 77 and a tie for 23rd place. Kim's victory likely propelled her into national hero status back home, winning the Open in only her 34th professional tournament in her second season on tour. This week, playing in her first Open, she made the cut for only the 10th time in the last two years.
Only four birdies were recorded at the 459-yard 18th all week, the longest par 4 in Women's Open history, and Kim's was the only birdie Sunday at the uphill green monster with a daunting drive requiring a 200-yard carry over water.
The same hole likely cost Lang (71 -- 289) and Mexico's Lorena Ochoa (72 -- 291) a chance at their first Open title, as well, with Ochoa making the dreaded snowman eight with a duck-hooked 3-wood into the pond. If she had parred the 18th, she also would have finished at 3 under and at least have been in a Monday playoff with Kim. Instead, she tied for sixth.
"I just gave the tournament away," said Ochoa, who won last week in Rochester, N.Y. "It was poor club selection. I hit a 3-wood. It was all the pressure to try to make an easy swing. I get too quick with my hands and make a hook into the water. I fought so hard for 71 holes. I feel really sad; that's the way golf is."
Lang, who played on Duke's national championship women's golf team this spring, missed a 10-foot par putt at the final hole that grazed the cup and stayed out. Lang and Pressel (75 -- 289) were both trying to become only the second amateur to win America's national championship, but instead had to settle for a tie for second place.
Pressel, who blamed three straight bogeys early in her front nine for her ultimate demise, wiped away tears with the collar of her shirt as she spoke about a lost opportunity to become the youngest Open champion, male or female.
"She hit a great shot," she said of Kim's birdie blast. "I had to hole mine [from the right rough] to beat her. I saw it, oh yeah. It was like, I can't believe that actually just happened to me. She hit a great shot, got a little lucky, but that happens. I was right there the whole way."
Michelle Wie was a witness to Kim's victory, but not much else. Tied for the lead after 54 holes and paired with Kim one group ahead of Pressel, the 15-year-old from Hawaii imploded early. She made double bogey at the first hole, played her first five holes in 4 over and soared to an 82 -- 296, tied for 23rd. She'll have to qualify to get into the Open next year because only the top 15 get an automatic exemption.
"Lost and confused, not a little, a lot," Wie said. "Difficult would be too easy a word. It was really hard for me out there today. I haven't played this bad in a long time. I mean, put a magnet in the ball or something, because that thing was not going toward the hole."
Wie, a Korean American, said she spoke with Kim all during the round, in Korean, and after her own hopes were dashed.
"I rooted for her all day," Wie said. "At the 17th hole, we made a plan that we would make two birdies on the last two holes and she made birdie on the last hole, so I'm really proud of her."
Sorenstam said she also was proud of her own efforts this week, even if her dream of winning all four majors in a single season was dashed with a rash of uncharacteristic bogeys on the longest course in Open history. For the first time all week, she hit a driver off the tee on the 346-yard No. 1, but watched it hit a tree down the right side and splash into a creek no more than a yard wide.
She took a drop there and missed a 20-footer for par, then hit driver at No. 2 into the rough and missed another 20-footer for par. At that point, she was seven shots behind, and when she failed to make a birdie until the 11th hole, she knew she had no chance on Cherry Hills's demanding finishing holes.
"My game plan was to be a little bit more aggressive, and I totally backfired," she said. "I'm disappointed, but I'm going to leave here and I'm going to know in my heart that I gave it all. It just didn't happen."
Sorenstam stayed around to watch the finish, and when Pressel headed toward the scorer's trailer, Sorenstam was one of the first people to give her a hug and offer some words of consolation.
"She just said, 'Great job, you played really well and you're going to have many more times, so keep your head up,' " Pressel said. "I've got a lot of years left, but it would have been nice to do it early. I'll be back next year, fighting."
Kim, 23, holds trophy, which was accompanied by a $560,000 check.
Morgan Pressel, 17, tears up after tying for second with a 75 -- 289.
Michelle Wie, 15, faltered with an 82 in final round. She tied for 23rd.
Birdie Kim, seemingly trapped in a bunker, sinks this shot for a birdie on the 18th hole to claim the U.S. Open.
Annika Sorenstam, trying to win her 3rd major of year, finished tied for 23rd.