Stacy Lewis Ascends to No. 1 – Just What the LPGA Needed

From “Huff’s Stuff” Arizona Golf Blog by Bill Huffman at the Arizona Golf Authority

Say this about the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup — it has produced some great champions in its brief history. But of those three winners, Stacy Lewis certainly delivered the most inspiring story at Wildfire Golf Club, overcoming what looked like a disastrous two-shot penalty Saturday and a seemingly invincible Ai Miyazato on Sunday.

Stacy Lewis 2013 Founders Cup - Arizona Golf AuthorityIronically, the hole that gave Miyazato her big, four-shot lead going into the final round, the same hole where Lewis had been stung when a TV viewer called in the infraction on her caddie – the short, par-4 16th – turned out to be where the tide turned. Miyazato gave up a one-shot lead there with an uncharacteristic double-bogey 6 that resulted from an unplayable lie in the desert, and a subsequent 18-foot birdie by Lewis suddenly gave Stacy a two-shot lead.

A birdie by Lewis at the 17th hole sealed the deal, and when the final tally added up to a three-shot victory behind a brilliant, 8-under-par 64, the Texan and former Arkansas All-American was the No. 1 player in the world. Oh, yes, and Travis Wilson, who had cost Lewis the two-shot penalty when he tested the sand with his foot (Rule 13-4) in the infamous bunker on the 16th fairway, was one relieved caddie.

“All that happened yesterday, I wasn’t even mad at him, because he didn’t do anything on purpose,” said the 28-year-old Lewis after her seventh career victory, and second in two weeks.

“I just felt really bad for him because all the stories were ‘Stacy Lewis’ caddie,’ ‘Stacy Lewis’ caddie,’ and the spotlight was on him and he never wants that. We were motivated today. I said in my interview (after the round), thank you to the viewer that called in because he gave me some more motivation. I didn’t really need it, but he gave me some more. Everything happens for a reason, and it just turned out to be a perfect day.”

In the process, Lewis joined Hall of Famer Karrie Webb of Australia (2011) and Taiwan’s Yani Tseng (2012), the player Lewis unseated as No. 1, as past champs of the Founders Cup. It could end up being a very select group, at least when it comes to the tournament’s history in Phoenix.

According to LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan, he has not been able to work out a new contract for the event beyond this year. The commissioner and RR Donnelley officials had met several times throughout this past week without reaching a renewal.

“I’ve given (RR Donnelley) until this summer (to renew),” said Whan, noting that the international digital solutions company headquartered in Chicago has had some financial struggles in the past year.

“But if they don’t (re-up), we’re confident that we can find another sponsor. Phoenix is a great market, and the LPGA needs to be in this market. And that isn’t taking anything away from RR Donnelley. They have been the best, and their business is on a nice comeback, so I remain very hopeful.”

Few comebacks, however, could top what Lewis provided, as she became only the second American to be No. 1 in the world following Cristie Kerr, who held that spot for five weeks in 2010. Lewis replaces Tseng, who had been on the top of the women’s heap for the past 109 weeks.

As shootouts go, this Founders Cup definitely was diversity in the desert. If the feisty Lewis is fire, the cool and calm Miyazato is ice. But no one was hotter on this day 80-degree than Lewis, who rolled in nine birdies to offset a lone bogey and shatter the 72-hole tournament record with a 23-under 261 total. Tseng had held the previous standard of 18 under that she established last year.

Miyazato, somewhat surprisingly, closed with a 71 after posting a tournament record 63 in Round 1 followed by a pair of 67s. Another seven shots back in third place was Angela Stanford on the strength of a 68.

At times on Sunday it seemed as if Miyazato was in full control, steadily keeping a cushion that fluctuated between two and four shots between herself and Lewis. But four birdies in a five-hole stretch beginning at the 13th hole got Lewis rolling, and when Miyazato pulled her short approach shot left of the green at the fateful 16th, it was all Lewis.

That moved Lewis alongside Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Jiyai Shin, Miyazato, Tseng and Kerr as one of seven women to be No. 1.

“It’s crazy,” Lewis said of being ranked Numero Uno. “That was my goal kind of like from the middle of last season, and I really didn’t think it would be possible this quick.”

An amazing climb, for sure, considering Lewis spent seven years in a back brace after being diagnosed with scoliosis at age 11, something she made reference to in the aftermath. And the fact that it took her awhile to get going in professional golf, as six of her seven wins have come in the past 15 months.

“It was just another roadblock in my career,” Lewis said when quizzed about how the two-shot penalty affected her on the final 18 holes. “But I felt like it was meant to be at the very end.”

Lewis wasn’t being cocky, just passionately confident. With her aggressive attitude and repeating swing – an automatic move that resembles both Sorenstam’s and Ochoa’s – she could be No. 1 for a long time.

The reality is Lewis is just what the LPGA needs – a highly visible American who is considered the best player in the women’s game. And that could trickle down to the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, which needs a little spark, and maybe a good break, if the tournament is to remain here.

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