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With a wave of the putter, hugs from LPGA peers, Juli Inkster bids farewell to US Women's Open

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PINEHURST, N.C. - Juli Inkster sank her final putt for par, then tipped her cap and waved her putter.

The first hug came from her caddie, and a handful more came from the LPGA Tour players waiting just off the green.

For the Hall of Famer, it was a poignant farewell to the U.S. Women's Open.

Inkster wrapped up what she has said will be her 35th and final appearance in the tournament Sunday with a 75 that left her tied for 15th at 7 over.

"I was disappointed in the way I played today, as a golfer, but that was my first thought," Inkster said. "But as a person I just felt a lot of pride that people root for me like that."

Inkster — who turns 54 on Tuesday — has a long history with the U.S. Open, making the cut in her first try as an 18-year-old in 1978 and winning it in 1999 and 2002. She said this week that this would be her last Women's Open.

She put herself in contention for a third title during the third round when the tournament's first 66 moved her into a four-way tie for third behind Michelle Wie and Amy Yang.

The cheers for Inkster started Sunday when she walked to the first tee box, and they kept coming right through her final walk up the 18th fairway.

"It's really hard, they were so pulling for me, but it's really hard to acknowledge them when you're 5-over par and struggling," Inkster said. "It was very nice, especially the reception on No. 1 tee and reception on 18, and all around the golf course. It was great. Very, very, very honoured."

In between, though, any hopes of a storybook ending came crashing down when she had five bogeys on the front nine. She added three more on the back to offset her three total birdies.

"It's been really a fun week," Inkster said, "and that's what I'll remember."

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ROLL TIDE: Stephanie Meadow's first week as a professional was a pretty good one.

The former Alabama player from Northern Ireland finished the Women's Open in third place at 1 over after a 69.

Not bad for someone who was the first alternate out of her sectional qualifier in California and didn't find out she was headed to Pinehurst No. 2 until a few weeks ago. She turned pro Monday, and earned $271,373 — likely enough to secure her LPGA Tour card for next season.

"It's been amazing," Meadow said. "Couldn't have pictured a better way to start my professional career. It's pretty much a dream come true."

Meadow said she plans to enter upcoming tournaments as a Monday qualifier.

"The answer — please give me sponsor exemptions," she said, laughing. "It's just kind of up in the air. Obviously, I don't have any status as of yet, so I just have to wait and see."

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TOP AMATEUR: Brooke Mackenzie Henderson claimed low amateur honours on the only day Minjee Lee really resembled one.

Henderson finished at 5 over after shooting a 69 while Lee tumbled to 8 over with a 76 that included seven bogeys and a double bogey.

She tied for 10th to earn her a spot in next year's Women's Open in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The 16-year-old Canadian had five birdies — including three in the first four holes after the turn.

"The best players in the world are here, and to know that I'm right up there, it's really awesome," Henderson said. "I still have a long way to go to where I want to be in the next couple years, but it's really exciting to know that I have the potential."

Lee, an 18-year-old Australian, began the day in a four-way tie for third, four strokes behind Michelle Wie and Amy Yang.

But bogeys on four of her first five holes quickly sent her tumbling down the leaderboard.

"I just started really bad," Lee said. "And I didn't have enough birdies to balance it out."

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PINE-HURTS: Playing as a defending Women's Open champion doesn't seem to suit Inbee Park.

She tied for 43rd place at 13 over, one year after her victory at Sebonack.

This was her worst finish in a Women's Open since she tied for 26th in 2009 — the year after she won it for the first time at Interlachen.

Every other time she's played this event since 2007, she's finished in the top 10.

"I never played this bad in the Women's Open before, so it was definitely a very tough golf course and probably one of the toughest I've played all nine years I've played," Park said of Pinehurst No. 2.

"It played really tough for me because my ball releases a lot more on the greens because I have a lower ball flight," she added. "So it was tough to hold the greens.

"It just wasn't my golf course."

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GREAT SCOT: Catriona Matthew saved her best round of the Women's Open for last.

The 44-year-old from Scotland shot a 66 with more birdies during a seven-hole stretch than during her previous three rounds combined.

During that stretch, Matthew had five birdies and eagled the par-5 10th — after rolling a 5-iron to about 2 feet — and later added her sixth birdie of the day on the 17th.

She joined Juli Inkster and Stacy Lewis as the only players to shoot 66s this week at Pinehurst No. 2.

She had four birdies from Thursday-Saturday.

Ultimately, it was too little, too late. The 2009 Women's British Open winner finished at 5 over after shooting two 75s.

"I think it's obviously a great test. You've really got to think your way around," Matthew said. "You know you can't really go at many pins. I don't know if there (were) any pins I went at all week, just about. Unless by accident."

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

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