Michelle Wie's fascinating golf career reached its apex at the 2014 U.S. Women's Open, as the former prodigy solidified her superstar status by winning her first major championship on Sunday.
Wie was steady for most of the final round at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, overcoming a late double bogey on the par-four 16th hole to shoot an even-par 70. That allowed Wie to finish at two under, good enough for a two-stroke victory over world No. 1 Stacy Lewis.
Here is a look at the final U.S. Women's Open leaderboard:
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Retired LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam was part of NBC's coverage and weighed in afterward about what Wie's win could mean moving forward:
"This could be the beginning of something really big" - Annika Sorenstam on Michelle Wie's #USWomensOpen victory.— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 22, 2014
Men's golf all-time greats Gary Player and Greg Norman congratulated Wie on her breakthrough achievement:
An opening bogey suggested that Wie was perhaps not up to the task, but under the maximum pressure, she stayed strong in parring the next eight holes. Playing partner Amy Yang shared the 54-hole lead, but she dropped four shots in as many holes in a nightmarish start.
Even when Lewis was rallying from well back, Wie received a shot of momentum when she capitalized on the 452-yard, par-five 10th, hitting the green in two and draining the eagle putt to get to three under.
That was as low as Wie got, though, and after another par streak, the championship nearly slipped away. A wayward approach shot to No. 16 found some of the wiry native Pinehurst rough. Wie was forced to take an unplayable lie, resulting in a penalty stroke and a drop from well back in the fairway.
After running her first putt approximately five feet by the hole, Wie nailed the comeback attempt. Then she bounced back in dramatic fashion on the 17th.
Golf Channel's Randall Mell analyzed the critical crossroads Wie had reached at that point, with a dangerous adversary in Lewis beginning to warm up on the driving range in case a playoff was needed:
Michelle Wie might remember that as a good double bogey at 16th, but she's walking tightrope between heartwarming & heartbreaking finish.— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) June 22, 2014
A decent tee shot to the par three left Wie a tricky downhill putt. The ball slowly trundled down the slope and went right in the heart. It was the stuff major champions are made of, as the gallery erupted and Wie let loose an emphatic fist pump.
Those who criticize Wie's tabletop style of putting can read this number and weep, per The Associated Press' Doug Ferguson:
Michelle Wie ends week without a three-putt.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) June 22, 2014
Wie boomed a drive down the last fairway, hit the green and made a routine par to finish off her victory. Below are some highlights, provided by espnW:
Michelle Wie Wins U.S. Open http://t.co/s4hBcvrxYh— espnwnews (@espnWnews) June 22, 2014
Credit's due to Lewis, who battled back from two disappointing middle rounds to fire a Sunday 66. Putting had given her uncharacteristic problems all week, but Lewis was in attack mode and poured in eight birdies on the day, including two to close out at Nos. 17 and 18.
Lewis' aggressive course management also led to four bogeys. However, as Ron Sirak of Golf Digest pointed out, a "great" bogey at the 16th set the stage for further drama down the stretch:
And @Stacy_Lewis shows there is such a thing as a great bogey. On 14, draws 2 bad lies in native area but hits 4th shot and makes 8-footer.— Ron Sirak (@ronsirak) June 22, 2014
Hall of Famer Juli Inkster was looking to make history as the oldest major winner, but she fell short in a tie for 15th following a 75. This was Inkster's last time to tee it up in the U.S. Women's Open, leading Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman to thank Inkster for her brilliance on the course over the years:
Juli Inkster calls it a career after 35 US Women's Opens. Thanks for the memories. You'll never find a more passionate competitor.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) June 22, 2014
The general consensus is that Wie's victory is great for golf, and there's plenty of reason to be excited about the sport at the moment, per Jay Coffin of Golf Channel:
Michelle Wie winning the U.S. Women's Open, Tiger Woods coming back this week. It's what us web editors call good for business.— Jay Coffin (@JayCoffinGC) June 22, 2014
With regard to the women's game specifically, this is a rather exciting time to say the least. What better way could Wie have won than to stave off the top-ranked player in the world and come through in the clutch? Losing a three-stroke lead with three holes remaining would have been devastating, but Wie was determined to notch her maiden major.
Who should be the favorite at the Women's British Open?
Lexi Thompson emerged victorious in a duel with Wie at the Kraft Nabisco Championship earlier this year, becoming a major champion at age 19. The two are friends and played together in the final pairing this week during Round 3, and although Thompson fell off the pace, she still finished in a tie for seventh at Pinehurst.
With Wie and Thompson leading the way, the LPGA looks to be heading into a promising new age. Even more attention went to the U.S. Women's Open this week, as 11-year-old Lucy Li qualified for the tournament and shot consecutive 78s. That's more than respectable on such a challenging course.
The LPGA could use an influx of star power, and it looks as though both Wie and Thompson are arriving right on time to challenge the likes of Lewis and last year's U.S. Open winner, Inbee Park.
It's hard to believe that Wie is still just 24 years old. If she can maintain consistency with her putter, build on her strength of ball-striking and pull through in the clutch as she did Sunday, little can stop Wie from winning far more majors.
While she should no doubt live in the moment and savor the hard work it took to get the trophy on Sunday, Wie will be expected to do more than ever now. With her positive attitude, perpetual resilience and talent, there's no telling how far Wie can go.