EDINA, Minn. — Stacy Lewis was walking up the 16th fairway Saturday afternoon at Interlachen when she saw a leaderboard and turned to her father, who was carrying her bag in her professional debut.
“Hey,” she told him, bumping his arm. “I’m tied for the lead in the Open.”
Two holes later, Lewis watched one final birdie putt slip into the corner of the cup for a 6-under-par 67 that gave her a one-shot lead over Paula Creamer in the U.S. Women’s Open, one round from completing a script right out of Hollywood.
Amazing, and not just because she turned pro 19 days ago.
Lewis, 23, spent her teen years in a back brace when doctors diagnosed her with scoliosis, only to learn that it didn’t heal, and she required surgery to install a steel rod and five screws in her vertebrae.
“I thought I was done playing golf forever,” Lewis said.
Five years later, she is one round from a U.S. Women’s Open title that only she believed possible.
“I’ve accomplished my goal for the week,” said Lewis, a former NCAA champion at Arkansas. “It was just to put myself in contention. And whatever happens tomorrow, it happens. I hope I win. I want to win … probably more than anybody here. But I have to hit a lot of good golf shots before I win this golf tournament.”
She will have to hold off a half-dozen players within four shots of the lead, starting with Creamer, who missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole and settled for a 69.
Creamer is two years younger than Lewis but in her fourth season on the LPGA Tour with six victories, enough for some to already anoint the 21-year-old product of a golf academy as the best player without a major.
“I couldn’t ask for any better position,” Creamer said. “Tomorrow I just have to go out and finish the deal. The golf course sets up really well for my game. And possibly, it’s my time.”
Lewis was at 9-under 210, setting up an All-American final group at the U.S. Women’s Open for the first time in five years.
Former Bishop Gorman standout Inbee Park remained near the top of the leaderboard, shooting 2-under 71 for a 7-under 212 total — despite lipping out on a birdie putt on the 18th hole. Park, having a banner season in her second year on the LPGA Tour, is seeking her first tournament win.
Helen Alfredsson stayed close to the lead throughout an afternoon of scattered clouds at Interlachen and came in at 71 to stand tied with Park at 212.
In-Kyung Kim had a 69 and was another shot behind, and eight-time LPGA Tour winner Mi Hyun Kim had a 70 and was at 214.
Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa was desperate for a quick start to get back in the game, but this isn’t what she had in mind. She played the first four holes in 4 over and wound up with a 76, her highest score of the week, to end her chances. She was at 4-over 223.
“It’s sad to see the tournament go, and now I have to wait one more year,” she said.
Annika Sorenstam probably doesn’t have that luxury. The three-time Open champion is retiring at the end of the year, and she wasted another day filled with birdie opportunities by converting only two of them in a round of 72 that left her seven shots behind.