SOUTHPORT, England — Mo Martin knew she hit her 3-wood exactly how she wanted on the 18th hole at Royal Birkdale.
With the ball slightly below her feet, just under 240 yards away and a strong wind at her back, she let it rip and watched the ball track toward the flag. Martin thought it was short. Then she thought it might be too long. Moments later, she realized just how good it was.
“I could hear it hit the pin from the fairway,” Martin said. “That was a pretty fun feeling.”
The ball rolled into the center of the flagstick and settled 6 feet away for an eagle, and when no one could catch her, the 31-year-old American became a major champion Sunday at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
“I think I still need to be pinched,” Martin said after closing with an even-par 72 for a one-shot victory over Shanshan Feng of China and Suzann Pettersen of Norway.
It was Martin’s first eagle of the year — one of the shortest hitters in the game, she doesn’t get many opportunities. She had not won on the LPGA Tour in 63 previous tries. And on a wind-swept Sunday when no one broke par, she was never closer than two shots of the leaders the entire final round.
The best shot of her life changed everything.
“An absolutely perfect 3-wood,” she said. “When it was in the air, I said, ‘Sit.’ And then I said, ‘Stop.’ And then when it was going toward the hole, I said, ‘OK, I don’t have anything more to say to that ball.’ I actually heard it hit the pin. It’s definitely one to remember.”
She turned and did a little jig in the fairway.
An hour later, it turned out to be the winning shot when Feng and Inbee Park of South Korea couldn’t stay under par.
Both needed one birdie over the two par-5 closing holes at Royal Birkdale. Feng missed birdie putts of 15 and 10 feet and shot 75. Park missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th, and then put her tee shot in the right rough on the easy 18th hole and wound up with a bogey for a 77.
Martin, who finished at 1-under 287, was on the practice range preparing for a playoff that never happened when she hugged her caddie, Kyle Morrison.
“Is this real life?” she said.
It seemed like a fairy tale for Martin. Growing up with modest means, her father built a cage in their driveway for her to practice hitting balls. She walked on at UCLA. She needed financial help to keep her dream alive, including the six years it took just to reach the LPGA Tour. Martin said she would keep trying if she woke up happy, felt she was still contributing something to women’s golf and could pay her bills.
And here she is — Mighty Mo, never happier.
When she returned from the range, players gathered around her cart to celebrate with a champagne shower.
“It’s still soaking in, along with champagne in my jacket,” Martin said. “This is just unbelievable. It’s literally a dream come true.”
It was a disappointment for Park, trying to become the seventh woman to capture four of the LPGA’s major. She had a two-shot lead at the turn until the high grass grabbed the bottom of her wedge on the 10th, sending her to a double bogey. She fell out of the lead by going long on the 14th for bogey, and never caught up.
“Made a lot of mistakes that I really didn’t need to make,” Park said. “Obviously the last hole drive was really disappointing.”
Pettersen finished birdie-birdie that allowed her to share second place, but not enough to atone for a pair of double bogeys earlier in the round.
Martin earned $474,575 — she had $599,760 in career money when she arrived in England.
Americans now have won the first three majors of the LPGA Tour season for the first time since 1999, with Martin following Lexi Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Michelle Wie at the U.S. Women’s Open.
A more likely candidate to extend that streak at Royal Birkdale would have been Stacy Lewis, the defending champion, who also started only three shots behind. Lewis didn’t make a birdie until the 18th hole and closed with a 78. Wie missed the cut, and Thompson finished 15 shots out of the lead.
Martin had a three-shot lead going into the weekend, building her strategy of keeping the ball in the fairway. But she had a 77 in the third round, and that figured to be the end of her chances. After two bogeys in five holes to start the final round, she was solid the rest of the way. And then she was simply spectacular at the end.
“Safe to say it’s the best week of my life,” she said.