Stacy Lewis vaulted into the lead at the U.S. Women's Open. It's the would-be Ben Hogan of women's golf, Stacy Lewis, vs. Paula Creamer in the U.S. Women's Open final pairing

EDINA, Minn. - Dale Lewis wasn't going to cry. They don't do crying in the Lewis family. At least not for long.

Instead, you take off the ugly plastic back brace you've been wearing for seven and a half years, find out you're going to need surgery for the scoliosis that's hounded you most of your life, get a metal rod and five screws put in your back, wonder if you're ever going to walk again, and then come out and take the lead into the final round of the U.S. Women's Open. At least that's what you do if you're Stacy Lewis.

With Lewis giving major pro golf the kind of inspirational comeback tale it hasn't had since the days of Ben Hogan, shooting a 6-under 67 in Saturday's third round, taking the lead by one over Paula Creamer with a birdie on 18 that put her at 9 under for the Open, her dad still wasn't going to break down.

Instead, he left everyone laughing heading into this afternoon's final round of the U.S. Women's Open - a tournament that's brought plenty of entertainment and drama despite world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa (at plus 4) sitting long out of it by her own admission, Annika Sorenstam (2 under, seven shots back) fighting her putter to the point where she only half kidded, "I'm about to cry," and Michelle Wie having never been in it on the way to a missed cut.

"We're going to do the same thing we've been doing all tournament long," Dale Lewis said when asked about the final-round eve plans of a most unlikely leader. "She'll have the remote, and I'll complain about what we're watching on TV. Then, I'll snore and keep her up."

Hey, whatever works,

Stacy Lewis hasn't had a single bogey in 21 holes. On a U.S. Open course. In arguably the most pressure-packed tournament in women's golf. She steadily, almost methodically, kept moving up the leaderboard late Saturday afternoon, gaining on Creamer who'd grabbed the solo lead on No. 10.

Then, she passed Creamer (8 under after a 69), 43-year-old LPGA Tour sage Helen Alfredsson (7 under after a 71), Inbee Park (7 under after a 71) and everyone else in the field. After that, it was time for a 23-year-old former NCAA Champion to go share one two-double-bed, modest hotel room with her dad.

Lewis doesn't have a lot of money. She only turned pro 19 days ago, hasn't even collected one paycheck yet. Now she has a chance at an awfully big one. (Last year's Open winner received $560,000, and while the USGA is still calculating this year's purse, it's expected to be similar.)

"I felt like I could play at this level and compete at this level." - Stacy Lewis

It sounds like a dizzying climb to comprehend - from the brace, to the six-hour surgery and the rod, to the cusp of women's golf legend. Except to the one who's making it. Stacy Lewis tells everyone with a straight face that she expected to be in this position, in this tournament.

"Truthfully, I'm not really that surprised," she said. "I felt like I could play at this level and compete at this level. It was my goal to put myself into contention to win going into the last day.

"Maybe some people will think that's a little arrogant. But that's how I think you have to be to have a chance to win."

Lewis has won at a relatively high level. Besides that NCAA title, she went 5-0 at the Curtis Cup for the winning American squad. She finished in a tie for fifth at another women's major in 2007 (the Kraft Nabisco). She's just never done it as a pro, with the leader's spotlight on her.

No matter?

"I think I'll probably sleep well (Saturday night)," Stacy Lewis said. "I'm pretty tired. I think it's a lot harder to play well than it is to play poorly."

Paula Creamer's not-so short majors quest

Paula Creamer has stopped trying to pretend like she sleeps soundly at majors. This 21-year-old has been on the LPGA Tour for several years and she's been getting some of that "the best player who's never won a major" tag this week.

"This is what I've always said I've wanted," Creamer said of being in the final group at a major, so close to the trophy. "You couldn't ask for anything more."

Creamer could have asked more from her third round. She stood at eight under after a birdie that brought out a large fist pump on No. 10. But she never went any lower and found herself barking at her caddie after a bogey on 11.

Alfredsson would have probably taken Creamer's round. The old vet lost some chances after she moved to eight under, and before that she took a tumble over Creamer's bag just off the ninth green. Alfreddson popped up laughing. So did everyone else, too.

"It always happens to me," Alfredsson said, smiling about the near Woody Austin-worthy fall. "I'm just used to it now. It doesn't even bother me anymore."

Much like Rocco Mediate at the men's Open, Alfredsson had often wondered if she'd ever been in this position, close to the lead at a major on the final day. She especially doubted it the last few years when her play didn't come close to meeting her own expectations.

"These are very precious moments when you get to my age," Alfredsson cracked, making sure to put the emphasis on the right word.

The leader wasn't trying to dwell on her past too much. Stacy Lewis had that surgery before her freshman year at Arkansas (a year she also had to red shirt to continuing recovering).

"When I found out I had to have the surgery, I thought I was done playing golf forever," Lewis said. "I cried."

But she didn't keep crying. And now she gets this afternoon, at the U.S. Women's Open.

"I want to win probably more than anybody here," Lewis said.

Sitting in the back of the interview room, dad almost lost it on that one. But not quite.

June 29, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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