BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Eun Hee Ji of South Korea made a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole Sunday, finishing off an even-par 71 to claim the U.S. Women’s Open.

The 20-year-old Ji outlasted playing partner and third-round leader Cristie Kerr, who struggled from the outset and failed in her bid for a second Women’s Open title in three years.

Ji recovered from two bogeys in her first four holes and a double-bogey at the 10th hole, making three birdies over the final six holes to finish at even-par 284 at Saucon Valley Country Club.

“Wow! I like; and am really happy, this being a major tournament,” Ji said through an interpreter. “I think this will be one of the most memorable moments in my life.”

Ji, another of a legion of South Korean players who were inspired to play the game by 1998 champion Se Ri Pak, won the Women’s Open in just her second try.

She is the second straight South Korean to win the event, following Inbee Park. Countrywoman Birdie Kim claimed the championship in 2005.

Ji said the double-bogey at the 10th had a calming effect, and that’s when she tried to focus on making a run. She went on to make birdies at 13th, 14th and 18th.

“The biggest factor at the biggest moment was the 10th hole when I had the double-bogey,” she said. “I just calmed myself down and decided to play comfortably.”

She punctuated her steady back-nine run on the final hole by driving into the center of the fairway, landing her approach about 20 feet from the pin and rolling the birdie try into the center of the cup.

Ji said the final putt was about 12 feet, but it appeared much longer.

Ji, who won the 2008 Wegman’s LPGA, pumped her fists and embraced caddie Zac Austin after the winning putt dropped. Kerr gave her playing partner a long embrace.

During the trophy presentation, Ji was doused with champagne.

Candie Kung of Taiwan continued a charge up the leaderboard she started in the third round when she vaulted from 37th to a tie for fifth. She completed her round before Ji and Kerr and appeared headed for a playoff after a 2-under 69 left her at 1-over 285.

But Kung’s push fell short and she settled for second when Ji rolled in the winner.

“I was going out there trying to make par all the way around,” Kung said. “Par is going to be a good score by the end of the week. … Even par won the tournament.”

Kerr shot a 4-over 75 and tied In-Kyung Kim of South Korea for third at 2-over 286.

“Obviously, today wasn’t my day,” Kerr said. “Nothing went in. Even the good putts I hit didn’t go in, and that’s kind of rough.

“You need to get that good feeling and that good momentum on the greens at the Open.”

Brittany Lincicome, who made an eagle putt on the 72nd hole earlier this year to win the Kraft Nabisco, placed fifth after a 1-under 70 left her at 3-over 287.

Futures Tour player Jean Reynolds was in the next-to-last pairing, poised to make a run. But she stumbled in the final round, shooting 6-over 77 for an 8-over 292.

Overnight storms dumped an inch of rain on the Old Course, softening the fairways and making the greens more receptive to shots. But a steady breeze helped dry out the putting surfaces and players continued to struggle on the speedy, undulating greens.

Kerr, the 2007 champion, failed to produce anything similar to the three workmanlike rounds that gave her a two-stroke lead over Ji heading into the final round.

The slow, steady play she used over three rounds to get to 2-under for the only round below par in the championship was missing from the beginning Sunday as she bogeyed the first hole.

After a birdie at the third to get back to 2-under, Kerr had back-to-back bogeys at the fifth and sixth. She dropped into black number for the first time in the championship with a bogey at the 13th.

Her troubles continued down the stretch as she rolled a birdie putt past the hole at the 16th and missed the comebacker, settling for a bogey that dropped her to 2-over. She failed to make lengthy birdie putts at the 17th and 18th.

Ji’s dramatic victory provided a respite from the lingering dispute between LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens and more than a dozen top tour players who signed a letter calling for her resignation.

The championship was overshadowed by the news most of the week, and the situation seems to be coming to a head.

LPGA Tour veteran Juli Inkster, who is on the tour’s Board of Directors, said Sunday she expects a resolution sometime this week and that the board will search for an interim replacement before eventually hiring a new commissioner.

The New York Times, citing a source, has reported that Bivens has decided to step down after the Open. Golf Digest had previously reported that Bivens would be replaced, as soon as this week, and cited sources who said the letter from the players was the final blo


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