- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — A year ago at Bulle Rock Golf Course, Se Ri Pak’s game hit rock bottom. She missed the cut at a major championship for the first time and played in only five more tournaments the rest of the season, never finishing better than 27th, before a finger injury sent her home.

“Last year, I didn’t like golf,” Pak said. “It was stressful and not fun. For the first time in my life, I was upset to go to the golf course.”

Re-energized this year, Pak completed her mini-comeback by winning the LPGA Championship yesterday at Bulle Rock in a one-hole playoff over Karrie Webb. She won, thanks to a shot for the ages — from the 18th fairway, she hit a 201-yard, 4-iron to six inches. Pak tapped in for the victory after Webb’s attempt from 25 feet never threatened.

The win was Pak’s first since the 2004 Michelob Ultra Open, her first major championship since the 2002 LPGA and her fifth major overall.

“After playing with Se Ri on Saturday, I told [playing partner] Sherri Steinhauer [yesterday], ‘You watch, she’ll be playing really good in the near future,’” Webb said. “I wish I could call it like that all the time.”

When Pak’s shot on 18 almost went into the hole, she immediately jumped into the arms of her caddie, T.J. Jones.

“That’s the first time I’ve jumped on the golf course after a shot,” she said.

Said Webb: “She hits an unbelievable shot and it’s really hard to come up with the goods after something like that.”

In the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco, Webb forced a playoff — which she won — by draining a 116-yard shot for eagle.

“I thought I was getting some of my own medicine — I was waiting for it to go in the hole,” she said.

Pak could have wrapped up the victory in regulation but she misjudged the speed on the 18th green and her 30-foot birdie putt rolled eight feet past and she bogeyed.

Webb (who shot a 4-under 68) and Pak (3-under 69) then had to wait out the final groups, none of whom could sink putts to join the playoff. On 18, Michelle Wie’s 30-foot putt to tie narrowly missed, disappointing the crowd of nearly 30,000 and Wie’s biggest support group, the Golf Channel. The 16-year-old Wie had to settle for a fifth-place tie after an even-par 72.

Mi Hyun Kim and Ai Miyazato tied for third place at 7-under, followed by Wie, Cristie Kerr, Shi Huyn Ahn and Pat Hurst at 6 under.

Among the group at 5 under was Annika Sorenstam, who shot 68 and burst into contention with four consecutive birdies (Nos. 9 to 12). But her bid for four consecutive LPGA Championships fell three strokes short.

Earlier this decade, Pak and Webb challenged Sorenstam for LPGA supremacy. But when Sorenstam’s game took off, Pak and Webb struggled — at least by their previous standards.

Webb re-emerged on the scene at the Kraft Nabisco and has two wins and three runner-up finishes this year. Yesterday was Pak’s turn to return to the spotlight.

Both Hall of Famers had to play catch up — Webb from three shots back and Pak from two strokes behind.

Webb birdied four of the first seven holes and her birdie on No. 15 gave her the outright lead. It was also her last birdie.

“That leaves me more disappointed than losing in the playoff,” she said. “I had reasonable birdie chances on 16, 17 and 18.”

Pak made the turn at 6 under and made four birdies (against one bogey) to reach the final hole at 9 under. The bogey gave Webb new life.

Webb and Pak’s steady play prevented Wie from reaching the winner’s circle for the first time as a professional.

Wie’s second shot of the day flew the first green and plunked a spectator in the shoulder, eventually resulting in a bogey. She regrouped to par the next holes before her first birdie. A birdie on No. 15 moved Wie to 8 under, one shot off the lead, but she gave the shot back on 16 when she lipped out a 4-footer.

“I feel like my stroke is awesome right now and maybe I have to work on my speed,” she said. “I just need to gain my confidence a little bit.”

The overnight co-leaders — Hurst and Miyazato — were done in by double bogeys on No. 7 (Miyazato) and No. 12 (Hurst, on a four-putt). Miyazato rallied to get within one shot of the lead following a birdie on 16, but she bogeyed the next hole when her tee shot landed in a bunker.

Their inability to string together birdies opened the door for Pak, Webb and Sorenstam, who now have a combined 21 majors.

Sorenstam’s four consecutive birdies moved her to 5-under par and she drained a putt on 16 to claw even closer to the lead. Her birdie attempt on 17 hit the right edge of the cup and rolled away. She bogeyed her final hole when she went for the birdie from nearly 30 feet and hit it 10 feet past.

“I had such a nice round going and I don’t know what I was thinking about on 18 because I was a little too aggressive on the first putt,” she said. “It was a bummer to finish like I did.”

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