OAKMONT PENNSYLVANIA — OAKMONT, Pa. -- Just when it seemed the 47th U.S. Women's Open golf championship had seen a little bit of everything, Patty Sheehan stepped up and showed the spectators and a national television audience that the best was saved for last.
Two shots behind Juli Inkster with two holes to play, Sheehan -- battling from behind all afternoon after missing the first green and making bogey -- came out of a 1-hour, 48-minute lightning/rain delay and made birdie putts of 10 feet and 18 feet to force an 18-hole playoff.
Each finished 69280 over the sodden 6,312-yard Oakmont CC course and beat their closest pursuer, Donna Andrews, by four shots.
The playoff, seventh in the championship's history, will begin at 11 a.m. today, with ESPN providing live 18-hole television coverage.
"The last thought I had [on the 18th] was get the thing to the hole," Sheehan said of her straight uphill putt to tie. "I played it just inside the right edge because I thought it would drift a bit left, and [when it was] three feet in front of the hole, I knew I'd made it."
Where Sheehan had an up-and-down tour that included six birdies and four bogeys, Inkster's round was much more solid with three birdies on the front and a bogey at No. 10.
"I played really well," she said. "Some putts didn't go in, but I'm happy to be in this position. Patty made two great putts. I hit a great putt on 17; it just lipped out. And at 18, I think I was a little tentative [with an 18-footer], because I didn't want a downhill putt coming back."
Overall, Inkster missed one fairway and one green, and her only bogey was a three-putt at No. 10, a 430-yard downhiller that played the toughest all week. She also missed a chance to celebrate a memorable 12th wedding anniversary with husband
Brian and daughter Hayley, 2 1/2 months.
During the delay, Inkster had told a television interviewer that "anything can happen." Sheehan, asked if she believed her, nodded. "I thought, if I could possibly get 17 and have a chance at 18. . . . I can't believe I did it."
Sheehan did get a break on the last hole when she drove into casual water (not surprising considering the downpour) in the right rough and got a drop into the fairway as her nearest point of relief. From there, a 5-iron shot to the green put her in position to go for the tie.
Inkster cited a problem with those kinds of shots, ones the players had been called upon to hit all week.
lTC "It's hard to hit irons off wet fairways," she explained. "It's hard to stay down on the ball and keep control. You're thinking about hitting it 'fat.' "
Inkster had a three-stroke lead on two occasions on the front nine, but as she rationalized, "A three-shot lead is not that much." Especially on this golf course.
Sheehan started bogey-bogey, but said there were no negative thoughts, an obvious reference to two previous last-round Open collapses.
"I was just trying to figure out why I was pulling the ball, and I was a lot better on the back side."
So, the two close friends will go at it in the same pairing for the third day in a row, and both said they would bring out the same strategy -- try to beat the golf course.
Andrews had started the day tied with Dawn Coe and Gail Graham at 1-over par, but Graham bogeyed two of the first three, and Coe bogeyed three in a row in the middle of the round.
NOTES: Baltimorean Tina Barrett shot a third straight 75 for 298 and a tie for 29th. The check for $5,643 boosted her year's earnings to $109,241 and her four-year career total to $304,757. . . . The 280 score has been bettered only twice in previous Opens, by Liselotte Neumann (277) at Baltimore CC in 1988 and by Betsy King (278) at Indianwood CC in Lake Orion, Mich., in 1989. . . . Vicki Goetze, 19, who said she would return for her sophomore year at the University of Georgia rather than turn pro this fall, shot 74301 and earned the low amateur medal for the third time in the past four years.