• A dramatic finish on the 18th playoff hole earns spunky Lunke $560,000
NORTH PLAINS ÑÊWith $560,000 and the most prestigious women's golf tournament on the line, Hilary Lunke refused to come up short.
Lunke, the straight and plucky hitter with the dependable putter, held off Angela Stanford's charge Monday with a clutch putt on the 18th green at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.
Lunke's curling, 15-foot birdie won a three-way playoff for the U.S. Women's Open title.
'I always thought if I won, it'd be the U.S. Women's Open,' she said after her first LPGA victory.
Her best finish on the LPGA Tour had been a tie for 15th in 2002.
This year, she had missed the cut in seven of 12 starts, never finishing higher than a tie for 21st. She came into the Open ranked 88th on the season money list at $39,208 and sitting 396th on the career chart with $69,717.
She shot a 1-under-par 70 in the playoff. Stanford, who shot 71, and Kelly Robbins, a 33-year-old veteran who had an erratic 73, earned $272,000 apiece after the ninth playoff in Open history and first three-way duel since 1987.
Lunke and Stanford were even par heading into the 419-yard 17th. Lunke took the lead with a steady par as Stanford hit her approach into a bunker and missed a 10-foot par putt.
'My swing Ñ the first nine it was awful, and I thought I had it under control the back nine. But it happened again,' said Stanford, 25, a Texas Christian University graduate from Saginaw, Texas, who scored her first tour victory last week in the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway, N.J.
On the par-5, 502-yard 18th, Stanford drew even with a dramatic 25-foot birdie putt from just off the front of the green. But Lunke deftly ran in her birdie, then gushed with tears as she hugged husband and caddie Tylar Lunke.
'That's just awesome,' Stanford said. 'I'm disappointed. But that was so much fun.'
In Sunday's fourth round, Stanford had forced the three-way tie with a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 18, after which Lunke missed an 18-foot birdie try that would have ended the tournament.
On Monday, Lunke's putter wouldn't let her down on a putt that was 'a little closer and a little more break' than Sunday's attempt.
Lunke, 24, was born in Edina, Minn., and earned a master's degree in sociology from Stanford University in March 2002.
She finished with 19 birdies, the most in the tournament, including three in the playoff. Not bad for somebody who hits it only about 230 yards off the tee and was the third-shortest driver among the 59 players who made the cut.
'I know I can hit that fairway,' she said. 'And I love to practice my short game. I think it's more fun than hitting balls.'
Stanford and Robbins started slowly on Monday, each falling four shots back at one point. Lunke played steadily, running into trouble only on No. 7 with a drive in the rough and a fairway wood that went about 3 feet, and on No. 12, where she played a poor iron shot and pitch. But she quickly recovered from the two bogeys.
Stanford rallied with three birdies in four holes, then caught Lunke with a chip-in birdie on the tough 14th.
But Lunke was not to be denied. In five days, she played the three finishing holes in 2-under, without a bogey.