2004: Kerr’s victory Ultra special

By Jay A. Coffin

Williamsburg, Va.

Pardon Cristie Kerr if she felt like the golf gods finally owed her one. The reasons are plenty.

Let’s begin right here at Kingsmill Resort, where Kerr had a few late hiccups at the 2003 Michelob Light Open and tied for second behind Grace Park. Then, last year, Kerr held the 54-hole lead at the Michelob Ultra Open and made double bogey on the second hole of the final round. She quickly tumbled down the leaderboard and ultimately tied for sixth behind Se Ri Pak, who started the final round four shots behind.

Kerr shot a final-round best 68 last November at the ADT Championship to reach a playoff against Annika Sorenstam, only to lose by making double bogey after finding water off the tee. At the MasterCard Classic in Mexico City in March, Kerr held the lead over Sorenstam heading into the final round but battled her swing, shot 75 and tied for third.

Get the picture? Knock on the door long enough and it’s bound to open.

Kerr crafted a brilliant 36-hole performance May 8 at the Michelob Ultra Open that laid to rest one streak while starting another. She shot 68-68-68-72 for an 8-under-par 276 total and closed the book on Sorenstam’s bid for a record sixth consecutive victory. In the meantime, Kerr collected $330,000 for her fifth career victory – her first with Sorenstam in the field.

Jill McGill was second at 281, while Natalie Gulbis, Catriona Matthew and Michele Redman tied for third at 282. Sorenstam was never in contention, posting rounds of 76-67-69-74 for a 2-over 286 total, leaving her tied for 12th, her worst finish since a 13th-place tie at the Women’s British Open last August.

“I definitely feel like I was able to extend my lead instead of protecting it,” said Kerr, who won the event with the third-largest purse on the LPGA and against one of the strongest fields of the year. “It is a hard place to get to mentally because it is really easy to go the opposite way. I didn’t do that. I kept fighting and fighting to go forward.”

To make the occasion sweeter, Kerr’s victory came on Mother’s Day, a significant time for her because her mother, Linda, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. Linda was not at Kingsmill, but is doing well and is in remission after various surgeries and radiation therapy. In addition, Kerr’s paternal grandmother, Ethel, died 12 days before her Michelob victory.

“It would have been good for her to see this,” Kerr said of her grandmother. “I guess she is probably seeing it now.”

And so Kerr’s transformation continues. She joined the LPGA in 1997 fresh out of high school as an overweight teen-ager with a poor attitude. Now, 60 pounds lighter, Kerr is an attractive 27-year-old who has a better outlook and is determined to become the next great American player.

Kerr did everything to prove she’s heading in the right direction over four grueling days in Virginia. She was tied for third after the opening round and never even went to the golf course Friday because of nasty weather that hit the East Coast. The second round was canceled because of unplayable course conditions, and any scores recorded were eliminated even though some had played as many as 12 holes. The second round was rescheduled for Saturday, with the field cut to the low 70 players and ties, thus setting up a 36-hole Sunday finish.

Kerr was up by two shots after the second round and had extended the margin to five after Round 3. With an almost insurmountable lead, her game plan was simple.

“I have that attitude that I need to get further and further ahead,” Kerr said. “That is what Annika does very well. I have learned that from her. She is never really satisfied with being too close to anybody.”

Then Sorenstam must really be unhappy with finishing 10 shots off the pace. She entered fresh off a five-week break that had players asking her if she enjoyed the offseason. Sorenstam did enjoy her break in Orlando, Fla., spending time with family and friends, but it was immediately apparent that some rust had accumulated. A first-round 76 left Sorenstam tied for 107th and in jeopardy of missing the cut. It wasn’t until the back nine of the second round when Sorenstam caught fire, making birdies on four of five holes to assure she’d stick around. Still, she never got closer than six shots of the lead over the final two rounds. Sorenstam played the front nine in 6 over for the week, and a double bogey on the third hole in the final round squashed her already dim hopes of victory. It marked the first time since October that she didn’t take home the hardware.

“I was ready to play, it just didn’t happen unfortunately,” Sorenstam said. “So I am a little sad about that. But I am not going to look for excuses, other than myself. I had a great opportunity to do something, I just didn’t do it.”

Kerr, on the other hand, finally did.

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