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Lewis makes pain her ally on way to landmark win

Stacy Lewis at the 2013 RR Donnelly LPGA Founders Cup
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PHOENIX – Stacy Lewis turned heartache into something to marvel over again.

She made pain her ally yet again.

Lewis won the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup on Sunday to seize the Rolex world No. 1 ranking with the odds heavily stacked against her. She won closing fiercely, scorching Wildfire Golf Club with an 8-under-par 64 to come from four shots back and beat Ai Miyazato in the final round.

This victory embodied what makes the folks around Lewis appreciate her so much.

The little girl who inspired family pursuing an unlikely golf dream was at it again here. The little girl who persevered after doctors surgically attached a metal rod and five screws to her spine to remedy the ravages of scoliosis turned pain into triumph again.

When the final putt dropped Sunday, Lewis turned to her caddie, Travis Wilson, waving her index finger at him before he engulfed her in a hug.

“This was for you!” Lewis told him.

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Lewis, 28, told Wilson the same thing walking off the 16th hole, a piece of property that Lewis and Wilson will always remember for the agony and ecstasy it gave them both.

Just a day earlier, Lewis was penalized two shots after Wilson was deemed to have violated Rule 13-4 by testing the surface of a hazard when he walked into a fairway bunker. The penalty came down hard at round’s end and threatened to mar what was otherwise a brilliant third-round charge.

On the precipice of seizing No. 1, Lewis was struck with what should have been a momentum-killing blow.

Instead of starting Sunday two shots behind Miyazato, Lewis found herself in a hole four back.

Wilson was crushed Saturday evening, despondent that he put his player in such a hole. Golf was abuzz with debate over why he even ventured into the bunker, whether it was a subtle attempt to test the sand, or just an unfortunate mistake under the heat of the moment.

As Lewis hit balls Saturday night, she confided concern to swing coach Joe Hallett.

“I’m really worried about Travis,” Lewis told Hallett. “He’s taking this really hard, and he doesn’t need to.”

Hallett said Lewis set the tone for the entire team when she marched out so resolutely to the practice putting green after Saturday’s disappointment. Wilson, Hallett and Dale Lewis, Stacy’s father, were waiting there curious how Lewis would greet them.

She clapped her hands and then threw her arms in the air.

“She was wearing the biggest smile,” Hallett said. “She says, `You know what? We work our butts off every week to put ourselves in position to win, that’s where we are. What could be better? Let’s go putt and hit some 3-woods.'”

It was fitting the 16th hole would prove to be the turning point again Sunday.

Lewis virtually willed a better outcome with her resolve.

One shot down at the 16th tee, Lewis pounded a drive into another fairway bunker there. This time, she hit a pure wedge from 123 yards to 18 feet. She buried that birdie putt in a dizzying three-shot turnaround.

Miyazato made double bogey there. Her fate was sealed in a struggle to escape an errant shot into the desert. Miyazato, playing so steadily all day long, blew a pitching wedge left into the scrub brush, where she had to take an unplayable lie. She couldn’t get up and down from her drop into the desert dirt.

Lewis birdied four of the final six holes in giving a clinic on how to close.

“I was super motivated by what happened yesterday,” Lewis said. “I feel good for Travis.”

At first reluctant to speak as Lewis signed her scorecard, Wilson acknowledged the great relief the win gave him.

“It’s a huge weight,” Wilson said. “I do everything I can to help her get in the winner’s circle, and to have something weird like that happen yesterday . . . It’s the first time in 21 years that I’ve had anything like that happen. I was just devastated by it.”

Wilson clutched the flag from the 18th hole in one hand, his prize to remember this unforgettable finish. He briefly revisited his disappointment he felt standing in this same spot 24 hours earlier.

“It was a great day on the course, but the half-hour after, you go through the gamut of emotions,” Wilson said. “You’re mad, then you just have to accept it.

“Stacy just showed me the way to do it. She is like, `We will just go out there and get it done tomorrow.’”

Dale Lewis was overwhelmed yet again by his daughter’s determination to overcome obstacles in her life.

“Today, and what happened yesterday, it’s almost like that’s the way Stacy’s whole career has been,” Dale said. “Every time she gets down, she just bounces back up.”

Stacy told her father there had to be some adversity to stick with the script.

“Why should getting to No. 1 be anything different from anything else in my career?” Lewis told her father. “I’ve always got to make it extra hard.”