BETHLEHEM -- After she three-putted the 70th hole of the 64th U.S. Women's Open, Cristie Kerr stood on the tee at the par-3 17th and angrily kicked her golf bag, not once, but twice. Given the way it had been going for most of the round, it's surprising she didn't miss.
Kerr took out her frustration on her golf bag, probably because she wasn't able to kick herself for what happened yesterday in the final round. If she could, she probably would still be flailing away after squandering a three-shot lead and failing to win the tournament she believes she is mentally equipped to win.
"If it was the first day of the tournament, nobody focuses on it," Kerr said. "But since I had the lead and I didn't play well, you definitely focus on it."
Kerr had a chance to do something special yesterday at the Old Course at Saucon Valley Country Club, and it had to do with more than winning her second U.S. Open title in three years.
Kerr, 31, had a chance to make a statement for American players. She had a chance to do something good for the LPGA Tour, which, right about now, could use some good news. She had a chance to assert herself as a dominant American player at a time when her tour is dominated by international players.
Instead, she missed. And there went the neighborhood.
"I'm obviously disappointed," Kerr said when it was all over, when Eun-Hee Ji, 23, a Korean, won the U.S. Women's Open with a good old-fashioned finish, making birdies on three of the final six holes. "I did everything the same. I prepared the same. I got out there and the rhythm, the swing, kind of felt the same. And it wasn't really nerves. It was just sort of, I couldn't hit the fairway with a 7-iron on No. 15.
"So, obviously, it was a little bit off. And it's unfortunate."
For American identity.
For the LPGA Tour.
That's because Ji's stunning victory -- she made an 18-footer at the final hole to avoid a three-hole playoff with Candie Kung of Taiwan -- marked the 29th time in the past 36 majors that an American player hasn't won a championship.
What's more, in the past 17 majors, there have been 16 different winners. The only person to win two is Lorena Ochoa, the No. 1 female player in the world.
Kerr had a chance to join her yesterday, had a chance to stamp herself as something of the Curtis Strange of her tour -- a player who becomes a bulldog in a U.S. Open. She had a chance to give the American players something to crow about on the LPGA Tour, which has become increasingly dominated by international players.
And it didn't happen.
"I played great for probably three-and-a-half days," Kerr said. "And I played bad for a half-day today. I still hit a lot of really good shots and a lot of really good putts. It just didn't quite happen for me."
Nothing really happened right for Kerr, a 12-time winner on the LPGA Tour. As much as Ji charged to the title with a hot putter, Kerr did her best to lose the darn thing, making two bogeys on the final six holes and never making another birdie after her 12-footer at No. 3 gave her a three-shot lead.
The reason: She never drove the ball straight enough or hit her irons close enough to have good chances.
After opening the tournament with a 2-under 69, Kerr was never over par in four days until she bogeyed No. 13 -- her 67th hole -- to fall a shot from the lead.
"I didn't go out and do all the things as well as I did the last three days," Kerr said. "It wasn't for lack of trying. Maybe I was a little tighter out there. Maybe it was a bit of the pressure. Who knows? But I couldn't even hit the fairway with a 7-iron [off the tee] on No. 15. It was not as rosy a feeling with the swing as the last three days. But it's still not an excuse. I shouldn't have three-putted 16. I kind of gave it away."
Indeed, Kerr's demise started at No. 13 when she missed the green from 178 yards in the fairway and made bogey -- the first time in four days she was over par for the tournament. But the end effectively came at the par-4 16th when she three-putted from 12 feet for bogey, missing a 4-footer to save par that would have kept her in a three-way tie.
It didn't even matter that Ji already had given Kerr something of a reprieve when she missed a 4-foot birdie at the same hole.
"It bothered me that I three-putted 16, but you know what, I really wanted to make it so I just rammed it by the hole," Kerr said.
Moments later, her bag paid the price.
So did American golf.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com . First Published July 13, 2009 4:00 AM