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Strange Brew at Witch Hollow

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. (AP) -- Hilary Lunke and Angela Stanford watched from the tee. Kelly Robbins was in the scoring trailer, her eyes glued to the television.
No matter the viewpoint, it was an intimidating sight -- Annika Sorenstam in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 18th, poised to make birdie and win the U.S. Women's Open.
''I was expecting her to have a decent shot at birdie,'' Lunke said. ''You've always got to anticipate that. You're playing against the best player in the world, she's going to make birdie. And you have to match her.''
What followed was a stunning conclusion Sunday that set up a three-way playoff for the first time in 16 years at the U.S. Women's Open.
The real shocker: Sorenstam won't be there.
Sorenstam hit into the trees, into a bunker and fell apart with a bogey on the 18th hole, leaving Lunke, Stanford and Robbins to play for the biggest prize in women's golf.
Robbins birdied two of the last three holes, just missing an eagle putt on No. 18 and closing with a 2-under 69.
Lunke hit a clutch bunker shot from 107 yards and had a 15-foot birdie putt to win, only to come up short and shoot 75.
The biggest surprise was Stanford, a forgotten figure until her 20-foot birdie putt curled down the ridge on the 18th and disappeared for a birdie. She shot 74, and was thrilled to play one more day.
As for Sorenstam? She's great, but not perfect.
''The fact you have the chance to win the U.S. Open coming up the 18th ... if you're not nervous, you're not human,'' Stanford said. ''I'm sure she was nervous.''
Sorenstam learned all about pressure two months ago at Colonial as the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour. It didn't pay off at Pumpkin Ridge.
She never birdied the 502-yard closing hole all week. She had only 236 yards left Sunday, but her 4-wood sailed into the trees, next to a fence surrounding the portable toilets and behind the large scoreboard.
It took 20 minutes to get relief, and her chip from a thin patch of dry grass clipped a branch and dropped in the bunker. She blasted out to 15 feet, but the par putt to remain at 1-under never had a chance.
''I wanted to make birdie,'' she said. ''Obviously, I played aggressive, it shot out to the right and the rest is history. I'm very disappointed, but I gave it my all.
''It's going to take a while to recover from this.''
It will take one more round, on a tough Witch Hollow course, to find a winner.
Monday will be the first playoff in the U.S. Women's Open since Se Ri Pak won at Blackwolf Run in 1998, and the first involving three women since Laura Davies defeated Ayako Okamoto and JoAnne Carner in 1987.
Lunke had a chance to win with the final putt, 15 feet below the cup for birdie. It had the right line, but came up a foot short.
Robbins, a major champion who hasn't won in more than four years, got under par for the first time all week with a two-putt birdie on the 18th hole. She was one of only three players to break par in the final round.
Stanford's putt was pure magic, reminiscent of Jenny Chuasiriporn holing from 45 feet in 1998 to get into the playoff with Pak.
''It was one of the coolest moments I've ever had on the golf course,'' Stanford said.
Sorenstam closed with a 2-over 73 and was at 284.
Aree Song, one of 14 teenagers at the U.S. Women's Open, birdied the final hole for a 74 that left her alone in fifth at 285. The 17-year-old Song was low amateur, and automatically earned a trip back next year.
Michelle Wie shot a 76 with a new caddie. Her father, B.J. Wie, turned the bag over to his 13-year-old daughter's swing coach for the final round, and perhaps for a while.
''I fired myself,'' the father said with a laugh. ''I caused too much trouble.''
Wie's first U.S. Women's Open was marred by a controversy over etiquette, resulting in allegations that Danielle Ammaccapane bumped her -- a claim B.J. Wie later retracted -- and that the 16-year veteran berated the ninth-grader in the scoring tent.
Even if Ammaccapane apologized, Wie said she wouldn't accept.
That mess should fade by the time Robbins, Stanford and Lunke tee off at 9 AM Monday, one more round on a Witch Hollow course that required nothing but the best golf under the most excruciating pressure.
A victory by Robbins, who won the '95 LPGA Championship, would give her the greatest comeback in U.S. Women's Open history. She started the final round six strokes behind.
''I'd like to say I'm surprised,'' she said. ''But being this kind of week, and what can happen out there, I knew if I could hang around even par, that things might be OK. I'm glad to be here.''
Stanford and Lunke get high marks for their finish given the circumstances.
Neither had contended in a major championship. Both watched Sorenstam hit great shots ahead of them and take a share of the lead. Then, they had to wait for what seemed like forever as Sorenstam got her ruling, took her drop and then fell apart.
Next up is Robbins, who has one of the sweetest swings in golf.
''We're giant beaters out here,'' Lunke said.
Lunke gave away her one-stroke lead quickly, making four bogeys in a five-hole stretch early in the round. An approach to two feet for birdie on the 11th gave her a two-shot lead, and then it was a matter of hanging on.
''I've always said my game was suited for a U.S. Open,'' Lunke said. ''And when I win my first LPGA event, I think it will be a U.S. Open.''
The last player to make her first LPGA victory a U.S. Women's Open was Sorenstam in 1995. She won't be around to find out if Lunke is the next one.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage of the U.S. Women's Open
  • U.S. Women's Open Leaderboard
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