Kerr romps to 12-stroke win at LPGA Championship

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Cristie Kerr spent all week discussing her dream to become the first American to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

She can stop dreaming.

After producing one of the most dominating performances to win the LPGA Championship — or any other major for that matter — Kerr is projected by the LPGA to secure the top spot once the rankings are released Monday.

“It feels awesome. There are no other words,” Kerr said Sunday after claiming her second major title by blowing away the field by a whopping 12 strokes at Locust Hill Country Club. “I’ve always wanted to be the No. 1 player in the world. … I’m there now, but I have to prove that I deserve to be there. So there is still a lot of work ahead.”

But, Kerr added with a beaming smile, “It feels awfully good right now.”

Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion, closed with a 6-under 66 for a 19-under 269 total to win the tournament leading wire-to-wire.

Kerr broke the tournament record for victory margin of 11 set by Betsy King in 1992 and matched the second-biggest victory in a major. Louise Suggs set the record of 14 in the 1949 U.S. Women’s Open and Babe Zaharias won the 1954 U.S. Open by 12 strokes.

“It’s a dream performance,” Kerr said drenched in champagne and rendered nearly speechless after carding 23 birdies and only four bogeys. “I can’t even speak right now. Winning by two or three is great, but winning by 12 shots is ridiculous. It’s obscene.”

By winning the $337,500 purse at the $2.25 million tournament, Kerr is poised to overtake Japan’s Ai Miyazato, who needed to finish second to guarantee she would remain at No. 1.

Miyazato opened the day at 1 over. She mounted a big rally with seven birdies before closing with a bogey 5 after hitting her tee shot into the rough. The four-time winner on the LPGA tour this season shot 66 to finish at 5 under in a tie for third with Jiyai Shin (71), the world’s No. 2 player. Song-Hee Kim (69) finished second at 7 under.

“That’s almost too good,” Miyazato said referring to Kerr, figuring 8 under would be good enough to win the tournament. “She’s just amazing. I played really good, too, but she is just better than me.”

This was Kerr’s 14th win in 14 years on the tour. It’s also her second victory — and fourth top-three finish — this season after winning the State Farm Classic two weeks ago.

She became the first American to win the LPGA Championship since Juli Inkster in 2000, and will become only the fifth player to hold the No. 1 spot since the rankings were introduced in 2006.

A switch at the top would mark the third time in three weeks that’s happened. Miyazato nudged out Shin to take over No. 1 after winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic last weekend for her fourth victory of the season.

The constant shuffle reflects the changing of the guard the LPGA is undergoing after April, when Lorena Ochoa followed Annika Sorenstam into retirement.

Kerr’s ascension comes at a time when she’s been playing at the top of her game, and become the standard-bearer among American players.

Americans have won only four of the past 14 majors, with Kerr winning two of them. Americans also have won only four of the past 30 LPGA Tour events, with Kerr winning three times.

“She’s matured and she’s grown up out here,” Inkster said of Kerr on Sunday. “Cristie seems to be playing well. She’s got a lot of confidence. I can totally see her being the No. 1 player for a while.”

Kerr began the final round with an eight-stroke lead on a humid, overcast day. She opened with six straight pars before birdieing three of her next four holes. She began celebrating while walking up the 18th fairway, having stuck her approach shot within 5 feet. She raised her arms, broke into a wide smile and hugged playing partner Jimin Kang.

After sinking her birdie putt, Kerr pumped her fist before breaking into tears. She was then doused by champagne by friend and fellow LPGA Tour player Natalie Gulbis.

“I’m a pretty emotional persona, and to be able to kind of harness that in a way, and channel it to playing well is amazing,” Kerr said. “I didn’t limit myself. I wanted to see how far I could take it. And I took it pretty far. … I don’t think I could’ve played better.”