CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. - Now we know why she's called Birdie. There were 63 players who played the 18th hole yesterday, but there was only one birdie all day and it was made by 23-year-old Birdie Kim, who holed out a 30-yard bunker shot to win the U.S. Women's Open on her first try.
Kim, who changed her first name from Ju Yun to Birdie this year because she wanted to stand out from the other five Kims on the LPGA Tour, cleared the lip of the bunker at the treacherous closing hole, landed the ball onto the sloping green and watched it roll on a straight line until it hit the flagstick and fell in.
It was the greatest bunker shot to win a major since Bob Tway holed a shot from the sand to beat Greg Norman in the 1986 PGA Championship.
It was the shot of a lifetime for Kim, from Cheong-Ju, South Korea. Her career had been perfectly nondescript, right up until the instant the ball dropped into the hole.
Kim's reaction to the moment was uncomplicated.
"After I hit, I didn't see the roll," she said. "I think, maybe it's close. It goes in.
"I think I win the tournament."
To the rest of the field, it was a bye-bye birdie.
Kim said she chose a golf name for her first name, but never considered eagle.
"That's a boy's name," she said.
Kim's 1-over-par 72 provided her with a two-shot victory over 17-year-old amateur Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang, another amateur. Pressel closed with a 75 and Lang a 71.
But the day's most important number is $560,000 for Kim, her winner's share and the best payday of her life by the margin of several banks. She had previously earned $79,832 in her two-year career.
It's hard to say what was the most stunning aspect of Kim's victory, because there was no shortage of candidates.
After earning $9,897 last year, Kim lost her tour card, but got it back at qualifying school. Then there is the shot itself. Kim won on a bunker shot, but she was tied for 141st in sand saves this year. Plus, Kim had missed the cut seven times in her 13 other tour events and in her two-year career, she had 24 missed cuts in 33 tournaments.
While Kim celebrated an unexpected victory, Annika Sorenstam's chances for a Grand Slam flew away with a 77 and 15-year-old Michelle Wie's hopes for becoming the youngest player to win a major went the same way with an 82.
Wie got to see Kim's shot up close because they played in the same group. But that was Wie's highlight. She started with a double bogey at the first, picked up two more double bogeys and ended tied for 23rd.
"I have to give my ball a [Global Positioning System] because it was lost," Wie said. "It was confused. From the get-go, it was not a little lost, it was a lot."
Also lost and a little dazed was Pressel, who was looking at a possible playoff until Kim's unlikely birdie. She covered her head with her hands when she heard the cheers for Kim and, slightly rattled, bogeyed the last hole to tie for second with Lang.
Then there was the sad spectacle of Lorena Ochoa, who had four birdies on the back nine and would have found herself in an 18-hole playoff today with Kim, but instead sank to a quadruple-bogey 8 on the last hole.
Ochoa chunked her drive, knocked the ball into the water on the last hole and tied for sixth.
"It is hard to realize right now," she said. "I just gave it away. I fought so hard for 71 holes and just the last one, you know, I feel really sad."
As for Sorenstam, the Kraft Nabisco and LPGA Championship winner, saying goodbye to her shot at winning all four majors this year was just one of those things.
"Well, it's just, I tried, but I am going to leave here and I am going to know in my heart that I gave it all," she said. "It just did not happen."
By 3 p.m., Sorenstam's clubs had hit the bottom of the trunk of her black Mercedes. That seemed like a good place for them.
Any bit of hope Sorenstam thought she might be able to grab ended when she bogeyed the last four holes, but her chances disappeared a lot sooner than that. Altering her conservative game plan for the first time, Sorenstam chose to hit her driver on the first hole. The ball clunked a tree down the right side of the fairway and splashed in a small creek.
She made a bogey, hit another driver into the rough on the second hole and made another bogey. After she bogeyed the ninth hole for the fourth consecutive day, Sorenstam was 9-over and she was a goner.
Sorenstam had no choice but to become more aggressive, but it didn't work out too well.
Her caddie, Terry McNamara, said the plan all along had been to keep the driver in the bag except for rare occasions.
"Hitting driver was like trying to hit into a thimble for a long hitter," he said. "It didn't work out, we found out."
He nodded when he was asked whether he wished they had stuck to the game plan.
"Now I do," he said.
After the round, Sorenstam ducked into the clubhouse for lunch, but there wasn't much time to rest. She left last night to play in a new $2 million match-play event in Gladstone, N.J.
Maybe, she said, there will be just enough time to take her mind off what happened here.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.