SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- A grain of sand made the world of difference at the U.S. Women's Open and helped propel American Brittany Lang to her first major title.
Sweden's Anna Nordqvist, attempting to complete the largest final-round comeback in U.S. Women's Open history, was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the second playoff hole at CordeValle Golf Club for grounding her club in the sand.
The news took all the pressure off Lang, a 30-year-old from McKinney, Texas, who parred the final playoff hole to capture just her second tournament title in 271 professional starts.
"You never want to win with a penalty or something like that, especially to Anna, who is a friend of mine," Lang said. "It's unfortunate. It's part of the game and it happened that way.
"I still had to play pretty damn good golf to get up there. So really proud of myself."
Nordqvist handled the disappointment well, but was clearly upset at how the situation was handled.
The penalty occurred on the 17th hole, the second in a three-hole aggregate playoff to decide the title. Nordqvist put her tee shot in the left side fairway bunker, but managed to save par to keep the playoff tied.
But as the television broadcast returned from a commercial following the 17th hole, it showed a replay of Nordqvist ticking the sand as she addressed her shot from the bunker. The USGA was notified and immediately began reviewing the footage.
The players were unaware as they played the 18th hole until an official approached Nordqvist following her third shot to inform her of the penalty.
"With all the cameras and all the attention, you would've figured they would've told me when it happened or when we were walking off 17," Nordqvist said.
The same official then went to Lang, who had yet to hit her third shot, to tell her about Nordqvist's penalty. Lang went to a longer club, cautiously played to the back of the green and two-putted for par and the title.
A rattled Nordqvist eventually missed her own short par putt to absorb her first true bogey of the day after firing a 5-under par 67 in regulation -- the low score of the round.
"I don't think anyone should feel sorry for me and feel bad," said Nordqvist, seeking her first major title since winning the Women's PGA Championship in 2009. "It's just one of those things that happens. I'll move on. I'm still going to wake up tomorrow."
Nordqvist was most upset at the timing, particularly that Lang was informed before attempting her third shot.
"It certainly changed her game plan," Nordqvist said.
Lang defended the USGA, saying she thought it handled it as best it could.
"They found out at a certain point and then they told when they found out," Lang said. "Anna happened to hit her third shot. So I don't think there's any problem there."
According to John Bodenhamer, the USGA's senior managing director for rules, competitions and equipment, the USGA did not see a violation during its initial review of the footage and thus saw no need to stop play. Fox, which broadcast the tournament, notified the USGA it saw the clearer replay that showed the violation.
"We did not know where the players were on 18," Bodenhamer said in explaining the timing of players being informed. "We knew they were on 18. Our decision was to ask our referee to inform both players as soon as possible."
Lang becomes just the second American -- joining Michelle Wie in 2014 -- in the past six years to win the U.S. Open. Korean players had dominated recent years, capturing four of the previous five titles. Lang is also the first golfer age 30 or older to win since Annika Sorenstam in 2006.
The day began with the world's No. 1 Lydia Ko leading and looking calm and confident. She rolled in five straight pars to start her day, then drilled a 20-foot putt for birdie on No. 6 that gave her a two-stroke lead.
But a bogey on the eighth hole -- only her second bogey in her past 43 holes -- was followed by a double-bogey on No. 9 that sent her spiraling from contention.
"Even though it didn't finish the way I wanted it to, I still feel like there's so many positives from this week," Ko said. "I've never been in this position before. So this has been really fun and hopefully I'll have more opportunities to be in this kind of position and next time pull it off."
This article was written by Jimmy Durkin from East Bay Times and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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