Stacy Lewis’ first LPGA victory, a three-stroke upset over top-ranked Yani Tseng at the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Sunday, capped an exciting three weeks of state-side LPGA golf.
Lewis, who played with a heavy heart after losing her grandfather the day before the season’s first major, spent 7.5 years in a back brace with scoliosis and plays with five screws and a metal rod in her back. After making her first tour win a major championship, she took the traditional plunge into Poppie’s Pond and will now have to wait almost a month before slugging her next drive in competition.
Masters favorite. Meanwhile, a few hours before Lewis’ last putt fell on her 3-under 69 round and 13-under finish at Dinah Shore’s tourney, Phil Mickelson showed why he was the favorite to to win this week in Augusta. Mickelson, whose aim all week was to ready himself to defend his Masters title, walked away with a three-shot Houston Open victory and onto a private jet ready to whisk him away to Magnolia Lane.
After Mickelson’s tap-in to go to 20-under for the week, the golf world shifted its attention in full to next week’s Masters. Even Golf Channel, the network that devoted 20 hours of live coverage to the KraftNab, was ready to move on before the women had made the turn.
“The time has come…,” GC tweeted after Mickelson’s win, hours before Lewis tidied up at the Nabisco. “@The_Masters! Don’t forget to sign up and make your picks in the Fantasy Challenge, who wins?”
That, in a nutshell, tells the tale of two tours: Lewis wins and goes home; Mickelson wins and moves on to what many golf fans consider the real first major of the year.
This is not to denigrate the Masters; the beauty and aura of the event and the annual drama at Amen Corner enthrall us all. It’s just a shame that Lewis and her colleagues must cool their hot sticks after such a fiery stretch of golf that included Karrie Webb’s win at the first-ever Founders Cup, Sandra Gal’s thrilling one-shot victory over No. 2 Jiyai Shin at the Kia Classic, and, of course, Lewis’ staunch performance at Mission Hills.
Two-shot deficit. Before this observer moves on to the Masters, here’s a brief recap of Lewis’ improbable win. The 26-year-old University of Arkansas grad, who started the day two shots behind Tseng, put on a clinic with huge drives off the tee that split the fairways, crisp approach shots, and dead-on putting. At times, she drove the ball past the big-hitting Tseng and certainly outlasted the normally unflappable three-time major champ.
Tseng, going for her second straight Kraft title, looked like a shoo-in for the triumph after firing a 66 in Saturday’s third round. The 22-year-old from Taiwan came to Rancho Mirage with four wins this season.
Lewis, however, turned the tables on her playing partner, showing far more confidence with her short game down the stretch. Tseng was birdie-less on the back nine, consistently running chip shots past the hole and struggling to make pars. She finished with a 74.
Lewis gave notice early on — with birdies at the second and third holes — that Tseng would have her hands full. She and Tseng were all square after a Tseng bogey on the fourth and she never relinquished the lead after making birdie on the ninth to Tseng’s bogey.
After essentially nailing down her win by draining a 20-foot par putt from just off the green at 17 as Tseng missed an 18-footer for par, Lewis bent down and put her hands on her knees to steady herself.
But she didn’t. “I felt like I was going to throw up all day,” Lewis told Golf Channel following her win.
Lewis, whose mother had to be hospitalized after hitting her leg when she joined her daughter for the Poppie’s Pond dive, will attend her grandfather’s funeral this week. She’ll next tee it up in the April 28-May 1 Avnet LPGA Classic.
And so, on to the Masters.
The Houston Open win was icing on the cake for Mickelson. Read how Lefty was looking beyond Houston to Augusta and the Masters.