Rolex Rankings No.1 Stacy Lewis has been one of the main characters in the storybook script that has unfolded on the LPGA Tour in 2014. The former University of Arkansas Razorback stood in the spotlight once again on Sunday, this time in her adopted home of Northwest Arkansas. Lewis was a standout at nearby U of A in Fayetteville, a twenty minute drive from Pinnacle Golf Club, and said her 11th career victory this week ranks high on her list of the most special wins of her career. The six-year Tour veteran said she had a mix emotions running throughout the entire day.
"I think a little bit of 18 was relief that it was done because I was so stressed out all day and so on edge just wanting to pull every shot off," said Lewis. "But then it was just excitement to hear the crowd react the way they did and just the people just to go nuts. "
"I mean, that’s why I play," Lewis added. "I play to get in the heat of the battle, to have that chance to win at the end. That’s why I play. And I want to see where my game is at that point because that’s the ultimate test, because if you can pull it off when the tournament is on the line, you know you’re doing some good things just to pull off those shots."
Lewis started the day four shots behind the second-round leader Michelle Wie but carded seven birdies and one bogey en-route to a closing 65. Her three-day total of 12-under par 201 was one shot clear of Lydia Ko (65), Cristie Kerr (67) and Angela Stanford (67).
Lewis had three birdies in her first six holes to get to 9-under par and within one shot of Stanford, Kerr and Wie. A three-putt bogey on the par 4 9th hole was her only blip of the day and turned her focus to a back-nine run. She said she wasn’t totally caught up with the tight race going on around her.
A birdie on the par 3 11th hole got her back to 9-under but it was the finishing four holes that tested the 29-year-old’s nerves. She said she wasn’t totally aware of the tight race for the finish going on around her and used the help of a fan heading into the final four holes.
"Actually I didn’t really know much," said Lewis. "I knew when I made the turn obviously I was a few behind. Then
coming down to 15 a fan actually yelled like, ‘You’re one behind,’ or something like that and I didn’t know where I stood at that point. So I got an assist there. But then I came off of 17, I saw that Lydia made birdie on 18, so I was glad that I had one more hole to play, I had a chance. I knew if I could birdie 18 and get in the clubhouse that would be a pretty good number."
Lewis had back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 & 16 to take the lead over Kerr and Lydia Ko who made a back-nine surge of her own with three birdies in her final four holes. Kerr was playing in the group behind Lewis and responded with a birdie of her own on No. 15 to get back to 11-under. Ko was in the group ahead of Lewis and walked in the clubhouse with a share of the lead after a birdie on the 18th.
"These wins, they don’t get easier," said Lewis. "You look at the names on that leaderboard, some great, great players. Lydia I think shot 65 today, Cristie played well. I mean, it doesn’t get any easier. But it’s also fun, it makes me work harder, it makes me want to be better and I think it’s good for everybody."
Lewis hit her third shot on the final par 5 18th to seven feet and gave herself some ‘self-talk’ on the green courtesy of her college coach, Shauna Estes-Taylor.
"On that putt on 18, Shauna and I worked on something last week, we were working on my putting and she said it to me a thousand times I think on the putting green on Saturday night and she said, ‘Down the line, down the line.’ So I don’t know if you could see it but out loud ‑‑ Travis told he walked away, he said, ‘Knock it in,’ and I said, ‘Down the line, down the line.’ So that’s all I was telling myself over that putt was "down the line," just trying to hit a good putt. If it goes in, great. If not, we go play some more golf."
Lewis sank the putt and gave a fist pump with her teeth clenched and lifted her putter to salute the Arkansas crowd. She headed to the clubhouse to watch the final two groups finish. Kerr left her 30-foot birdie putt on 18 short and So Yeon Ryu failed to chip in on 18 to force a playoff. Lewis, who got her competitive golf career underway as an undergraduate at Arkansas said the victory here is a sweet reminder on how far she has come.
"Now to come to this point being No. 1 in the world and having a bunch of wins on tour, it’s pretty mind boggling when you think back all that’s kind of changed over the last few years," said Lewis. "It’s just really, really special to win here."
GRACIOUS IN DEFEAT
Lydia Ko (-11) finished one stroke behind eventually champion Stacy Lewis but even coming off 18 and heading to the clubhouse tied for the lead she knew her chances weren’t great. At that point, Lewis and Cristie Kerr had two holes to play.
"If I get the opportunity to hopefully go in the playoff that’s great because then, you know, maybe I can grind something out." Ko said before Lewis birdied the final hole. "But the last couple holes there you can make birdies like I did the last two, they’re definitely birdiable, especially with the tee forward on 18. I think the girls that are tied right now that are behind will definitely get on in two, which means it could be birdies."
Ko and Lewis have been paired together a quite a few times this year, including the first two days at this tournament. They are familiar with each other and a huge amount of respect shared between the two champions.
"She’s playing some awesome golf." Ko said of Lewis. "She’s I think one of the most consistent players out on the tour right now. She’s having consistent Top 10s like Michelle (Wie) and I think it’s great that we’re playing in her hometown, and the best thing is she’s World No. 1 and they’re proud to say it."
HEART WARMING WIN
Stacy Lewis is a hog a heart. The former University of Arkansas standout would take that statement as a big compliment and is one of the many proud alumni of the Fayetteville-based school. Lewis came full circle this week in Rogers clinching her 11th career victory and unofficially picked up her first win here in 2007. Lewis led the tournament after 18 holes as an amateur while she was still at Arkansas but the event got rained out and marked unofficial due to not completing 36 holes.
"I mean, this place just means so much to me. I say it all the time, I felt like if I go anywhere else to school, I don’t think I end up where I am. And I’m pretty fortunate I got around a lot of good people here and that’s why I support this tournament and this area so much, just because I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am without them."
Lewis reflected on the past seven years and all that has happened since the event in 2007. She walked into this week with more eyes on her than ever, having two wins this season and reaching No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings.
"So to win here, it’s just crazy how far I’ve come, you know," said Lewis. "I guess it’s been seven years since I won as an amateur. Now to come to this point being No. 1 in the world and having a bunch of wins on tour, it’s pretty mind boggling when you think back all that’s kind of changed over the last few years. It’s just really, really special to win here."