ROGERS, Ark. (AP) — Stacy Lewis has worked tirelessly over her career to embrace the overwhelming support in her adopted state of Arkansas.
The recovering introvert finally found a way to do so while overcoming her self-imposed pressure Sunday — shooting a 6-under 65 and rallying for a much-sought after official win in the NW Arkansas Championship.
Lewis earned an unofficial rain-shortened win at the tournament as an amateur in 2007, but she had struggled to match that effort since as her popularity — and ranking — soared.
She earned $300,000 for her third LPGA Tour victory of the year, but more importantly the 11-time winner earned a welcomed sigh of relief in front of a college-like atmosphere full of fans cheering for the former four-time All-American at Arkansas.
"When I first came here to school, I was extremely shy, and I think I've definitely grown out of that over the years," Lewis said. "... I've just found that the more I interact with fans, it makes me more relaxed, and enjoying it more is what I'm trying to do."
The top-ranked and native Texan secured the one-stroke win with a 7-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Pinnacle Country Club. The putt capped a stretch of three birdies over her final four holes, helping the two-time major winner finish at 12-under 201 — one shot ahead of 17-year-old Lydia Ko, Cristie Kerr and Angela Stanford.
Kerr had a chance to match Lewis at 12 under with a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th. However, her putt came up short.
Then, after So Yeon Ryu failed to make an eagle on the final hole, Lewis' win was secured. Ryu ended up fifth at 10 under after a 69.
Lewis' final putt resulted in a huge ovation from the pro-Arkansas gallery as well as a fist pump and sigh of relief from the local favorite. Her after-party inside Pinnacle Country Club included a hug from Arkansas women's golf coach Shauna Estes-Taylor, among others, and chants of "Stacy's No. 1."
"This place just means so much to me," Lewis said. "So, to win here, it's just crazy how far I've come ... It's just really, really special to win here."
Michelle Wie began the final round with a two-shot lead after back-to-back 5-under 66s, but she missed short birdie putts on the first two holes and struggled to a 1-over front nine — capped by a three-putt bogey on the ninth.