- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. — In the 13 years since Meg Mallon first won the U.S. Women’s Open, she has collected enough baggage to know that a lot can go wrong in the biggest tournament of the year.

She spit up a three-shot lead to Annika Sorenstam in 1995. She squandered a great chance four years ago in Chicago against Karrie Webb by three-putting for bogey four times on the back nine.

This time, everything went right.

Mallon shot the greatest final round by a winner in the 59-year history of the Women’s Open, closing with a 6-under 65 yesterday to erase a three-shot deficit against Jennifer Rosales and leave Sorenstam in hopeless pursuit.

Not even the best player in women’s golf stood a chance at Orchard Golf Club.

“I’m 41 years old, and you’ve got to enjoy your days, enjoy when things like this happen,” Mallon said. “I was going to go out and have a fun time and play a great golf course and just do the best I can. And it was all that.

“I’m incredibly proud that I have my name on that trophy again.”

Mallon finished at 10-under 274 for a two-shot victory over Sorenstam. Her 16th career victory and fourth major title was worth $560,000 from the richest purse in women’s golf.

Even more valuable was the player she beat.

Sorenstam birdied the final two holes for a 67, and the cheers resonating through the Orchards made Mallon realize she would have to play hard to the very end.

“I did what I could do,” Sorenstam said. “I got outplayed. I don’t know how many of you thought there would be a 65 in the last few groups, but Meg proved us all wrong today.”

Merely a bystander during so many great moments in women’s golf the last few years, Mallon finally celebrated one of her own.

She was the Forrest Gump of women’s golf, in every snapshot of history.

Mallon played with Sorenstam when she shot 59, with Juli Inkster when she won the LPGA Championship to get the career Grand Slam, with Dottie Pepper when she had the lowest score under par at a major, with Webb when she earned enough points for the Hall of Fame.

This day belonged to her.

“It was a surreal moment,” Mallon said.

She shared it with two sisters, two brothers, a nephew and a record gallery at the Women’s Open that treated Mallon like one of their own.

Massachusetts-born, Mallon moved away as a child but still felt a strong connection with the crowd — except for the woman who called out, “If the Red Sox can’t do it, you can do it today.”

“It’s probably a good idea that I left at 11 months old,” Mallon said.

It was similar to her 1991 Open victory at Colonial, played in such steamy weather that Mallon carried an umbrella to shade herself. And just like Colonial, she rode an incredibly hot putter.

Mallon holed a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 4 to start closing in on Rosales, and an 18-footer on No. 11 that curled in the right side and gave her the lead for good. The biggest of all might have been a 25-footer for par from just off the fringe that rattled the pin at No. 15, giving her a cushion for the final three holes.

Mallon didn’t make a bogey over the final 25 holes at Orchards.

The last of her 24 putts in the final round was a tap-in for par that set off a wild celebration with her family.

“The cup looked like a bucket, and it was a great day for that to happen,” Mallon said.

The 13-year gap between Women’s Open wins is the largest in history.

And the final round was one for the ages, breaking by one shot the previous best round by an Open champion, set by Juli Inkster two years ago at Prairie Dunes.

Just like then, Sorenstam was the runner-up by two shots and wondered what hit her.

“I did everything I could control,” Sorenstam said. “I can’t control Meg. Sometimes, it’s out of your hands and you have to accept that and move on.”

Kelly Robbins was the main challenger on the back nine until a bogey on the 15th. Robbins, who lost in a three-way playoff last year at Pumpkin Ridge, closed with a 69 and finished third.

Rosales made her first bogey at No. 7 and quickly fell apart. Starting the final round with a three-shot lead, she closed with a 75 and finished fourth.

“I’m still in shock. Meg played awesome,” Rosales said. “My caddie and I were having a bet. She said, ‘She’ll make this one, five bucks.’ I said, ‘You’re on.’ And then she makes it. She made everything she looked at.”

The teenagers never had a chance, but they put on a good show.

Michelle Wie, the 14-year-old sensation from Hawaii, had a 73 for her first round over par in a major this year. Paula Creamer, a 17-year-old with just as much game, shot 72. Both tied for 13th at 1-over 285, making them exempt for the Open next year at Cherry Hills in Denver.

Mallon put on a sterling show on the greens, 10 times taking only one putt — including the clutch par on No. 15 that wasn’t even on the green. It was gaining speed when it hit the pin and dropped, and Mallon was so stunned she held up the palm of her hands and cut loose that infectious smile.

“What are you going to do?” Mallon said. “It’s your day when things like that happen.”

No one saw it coming, least of all Rosales.

The high-strung Filipino came out firing, full of fiery emotion. She ran up her approach to 5 feet on the opening hole and already was warming up her fist-pump when the putt fell for birdie. “Yeah!” she screamed as it dropped, as if it were championship point at Wimbledon.

That quickly built her lead to four shots, and it looked as if the final round might be a runaway.

It was — but not for Rosales.

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