SOUTH HADLEY, MASS. — SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. - This was a fringe benefit even Meg Mallon could not have imagined. She came to the 15th hole with a four-stroke lead and when her third shot wound up on the fringe instead of on the green, she thought, "In the Open, a bogey doesn't hurt you."
With that relaxed state of mind, Mallon promptly putted in from 25 feet away for a spectacular par that allowed her to withstand Annika Sorenstam's strong finish and capture her second U.S. Open championship. The 13-year gap between Women's Open wins is the largest in history.
"It's your day when things like that happen," said Mallon, who reacted to that shot the same way she did to a curling 18-footer for a birdie at No. 14. She beamed, threw her arms out wide and shrugged as if to say, "I don't believe it, either!"
Mallon, at 41 the third-oldest player ever to win the Open, gained plenty of believers all afternoon from a supportive gallery and from her peers as she shot a 6-under-par 65 for a four-day total of 10-under 274, two shots better than the LPGA's No. 1-ranked player, Sorenstam, who sizzled herself with a 67.
Mallon's 65 was the lowest final round by a champion in the 59-year history of the Women's Open.
"I'm disappointed, but I can get over it because I played so well," Sorenstam said. "You've got to give all the credit to Meg."
Mallon had four of her five siblings in the gallery and said she was especially thrilled for her mother, Marian, who is partially paralyzed after suffering a brain hemorrhage in 2001. "She was fully aware of what was happening today," Mallon said with a smile. "It just felt right for me this week."
What was right was Mallon's putter, which has deserted her for much of this season but sparkled yesterday. She needed only 24 putts for the round and got a huge jump-start with what she called "a 54-foot bomb" for a birdie on No. 4. She made six birdies and no bogeys playing with third-round leader Jennifer Rosales, who blew up on the final day for a 75 that left her seven shots back in fourth.
Kelly Robbins shot 69-278 to finish third.
Only Sorenstam threatened Mallon on the back nine, but it was not a serious threat as Mallon held a four-stroke lead with two holes to play. Though it seemed like she was cruising, she said that wasn't the case.
"When you have history, you just know all the things that can go wrong," Mallon said. "I kick-started Annika's career in '95. She was five shots behind me and came back and won her first [of two straight Opens]."
Sorenstam would not get No. 3 because Mallon managed the course so well, hitting greens when she missed fairways and making all those magnificent putts.
"I'm beside myself," Mallon said. "It has to rank right up there with the best rounds I've ever played. Today was just magical. I haven't putted like this in, I can't tell you how long. To have these amazing putts go in was so much fun."
She had fun with the gallery, too, waving at every opportunity and even having a verbal exchange with a fan. Mallon has New England roots, having lived in South Nattick, Mass., for the first year of her life before moving to Detroit, and summering on Cape Cod as a youth.
She remains a Red Sox fan.
"It's funny, someone yelled out, 'If the Red Sox can't do it, you can do it,' and that is so Boston right there," Mallon said.
"It's probably good that I left at 11 months old because I didn't carry that mentality with me," Mallon added with a laugh. "I figure if I can win the U.S. Open, then the Red Sox can win the World Series."
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