HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Lorena Ochoa was trying to win her third straight major, something even Annika Sorenstam never pulled off.
Sorenstam was trying to win her final McDonald's LPGA Championship, an event she had won three consecutive times beginning in 2003.
Instead, for the second time in 3 years, the second leg of the women's grand slam came down to a playoff. This time, between another Swedish veteran and a rookie from Taiwan, who together had three tour wins.
Sometimes, that's a good month for Ochoa or Sorenstam.
This time, Ochoa, the No. 1 player on the planet, and Sorenstam, one of the best ever, had to settle for a tie for third, one shot short.
So it was Maria Hjorth and Yani Tseng who got to play extra holes. Four of them, actually. Finally, on the third time they'd navigated the 18th in a little more than an hour, Tseng drained a 5-foot putt for a birdie 3 to send everyone who had endured the triple-figure heat index searching for an air conditioner.
Hjorth could have ended things on the closing hole of regulation, and the first two in sudden death. Then she missed a 14-footer to give Tseng her opening. The 19-year-old rolled it dead solid perfect, to become the second-youngest winner of a female major.
"This is my dream," said Tseng, the first person from her country to win a major in only her third try. "I couldn't believe it. Everything just came so fast."
Even for someone who'd beaten Michelle Wie (remember her?) to win the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, and Morgan Pressel in the finals of the 2005 North and South Am.
Tseng - who had finished second twice this season - started the final round at 8-under-par 208, tied for fifth with three others, four behind Jee Young Lee, who shot 78 yesterday.
Hjorth was one off the lead, while Sorenstam and Ochoa were two back. By the time they headed to the back nine, Tseng was in a three-way tie at the top with the two Swedes. Hjorth, who got a huge break on 15 when her second shot bounced off a rock in a hazard and onto the fringe of the green for an up-and-down birdie, missed a short par putt at the par-3 17th to fall back into a tie with Tseng. Hjorth couldn't convert a 20-footer on 18, and it became match play, starting on the same hole. They would proceed to 16, 17 and back to 18 once more.
Two years ago, Korea's Se Ri Pak won it on the first hole, with a memorable approach that set up a tap-in bird.
Hjorth, who double-bogeyed 13 but chipped in for a bird at 16 to go in front, has now finished second, fourth and runner-up in the last three majors. She closed with a 71, three more than Tseng.
"I played so well today," Hjorth said. "I just had really great birdie chances on every hole. Unfortnately, it didn't go my way. And [Tseng] made a great birdie on the last."
Amazingly, Sandra Post won this major as a rookie in 1968. Nancy Lopez did likewise a decade later. And Pak followed suit a decade ago.
"I was very relaxed this week, and today," the personable Tseng said. "All week I heard, 'Lorena, Lorena.' Today it was 'Yani, Yani.' I was happy to see that."
Sorenstam hit the ball as well as anyone, but her putter never cooperated. She shot 71, as did Ochoa. A long birdie attempt on 17 just missed, and a much more makable one on 18 never came close. She didn't make any birds on her last 13 holes, but bogeyed 13.
"It's a tough time [right now]," said Sorenstam, who is retiring at the end of the season to remarry and start a family. "I wish I could have converted one or two [putts]. It would have been enough.
"I was determined today, the whole week. I felt I could do it. I left a few [shots] out there."
Ochoa, who led by one after 36 holes, did birdie two of her last three holes, including 18.
"I guess there's nothing I can do now," she lamented. "I never lost hope. I thought something good would happen. It wasn't my time. I don't know. It was a strange day. To be honest, I didn't feel the pressure, [even though] everybody was talking about three in a row."
Hey, three out of four wouldn't be shabby. The U.S. Open is only 2 weeks away.
Tseng will now go there with an entirely different mind-set.
"Coach told me, 'Don't try too hard,' " she said. "Today, I really just enjoyed [playing] golf.
"I hope they're going to give me a big party. It's sad that I can't drink. Diet Coke."
In 1985, Taiwan's T.C. Chen was in position to win the men's U.S. Open, but lost by one after infamously hitting the ball twice on the same swing. Tseng said she saw the shot last week for the first time.
"I couldn't believe it," she smiled. "That's not a really hard shot.
"But don't tell him I said that."
The secret's safe with us. Party on.
This was the next-to-last McDonald's Championship, as the LPGA announced on Friday that it is taking over ownership and operation of the tournament starting in 2010. Whether it remains at this venue, where it moved in 2005, appears doubtful. The contract was for 4 years plus an option. The powers-that-be would prefer to keep it within an hour or so of Philadelphia . . . For the first time all week, the lift-clean-and-place rule (in your own fairway) was not in effect. *