GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. - Brittany Lincicome leads the LPGA Tour in driving distance. The 18th hole at Seaview Resort's Bay Course is a 500-yard par 5. She stood on the tee there late yesterday afternoon, needing to make a birdie to avoid a playoff. And she had, after all, played the three par 5s in 8-under par to that point (one eagle, six birdies and a par). Nonetheless, she wound up making things a lot more stressful than they maybe needed to be.
After a fairway-splitting drive left her 230 yards to the pin, the 25-year-old Lincicome pulled a choked-down 3-wood into the fescue left of the green. Not what she had in mind. Yet she somehow managed to chip it out with a lob wedge to within 5 feet of the cup. And her putt was nothing but center cut. That moved her one shot in front of Jiyai Shin, who'd finished with a par in the group ahead. It then came down to 2004 ShopRite Classic champion Cristie Kerr, who'd started the day with a one-shot cushion. Needing an eagle to tie, she could only reach the front fringe with a "ripped" 3-wood. Her 80-foot putt was on the right line but came up 5 feet short. She did convert the bird to share second with Shin.
It was Lincicome's fourth LPGA victory, but first since she won the Kraft Nabisco, a major, a little over 2 years ago. She won that one, by the way, with a closing eagle on a par 5.
"It's amazing," she said. "It's been a long time. It's nice to get back in the winner's circle. You don't know if it's ever going to happen again. Now I hope there's bigger and better things to come. It couldn't get any harder than that. If it's my time, the putt's going to go in. I was really super nervous.
"I could hit a whole bucket of balls from where I was and not get it like I did. When I saw it was in the high stuff I thought, 'Oh, crap. This is not really where I wanted to be.' But it wasn't a horrible lie, I guess, if you're going to be there. I had to make sure I kept the club going [through the shot]. I gutted it out, basically. I tried to pop it out and get it running. It came out absolutely perfect. On the putt, you go with [what you feel] and see what happens. I definitely didn't want to go to a playoff."
Lincicome, who had made eight consecutive pars before that, carded a 5-under par 66 after putting up a 64 on Saturday. Her 54-hole total was 202. After taking a double-bogey at the 16th on Friday, she didn't suffer even a bogey the rest of the way. That's 38 holes of nothing higher than 4s on the old scorecard, if you're keeping track. And she of course owned the par 5s.
"They're all reachable in two, which is fantastic," she said. "It was nice to take advantage of them."
It was also a good thing to have caddie A.J. Eathorne, a former Tour player, working with her for the second tournament.
"The chattier I am, the better I play," Lincicome admitted. "[Eathorne] did a great job so that if I was down a little bit to pick me back up and talk about something that I really enjoy, whether it be fishing or my dogs or my friends at home. We were just going to have fun."
Whatever it takes.
Shin, who won the 2008 British Open before she was an LPGA member and had five top-10s in majors in the last two seasons, missed last year's event due to an appendectomy. She made four straight birds, starting at 3, to get into the thick of it. She would also miss a few makeable putts that could've made a difference. She went in front with a bird at 12, but fell back into a tie with a bogey two holes later. She also dropped a stroke at 15, to fall one behind. She hit it stiff to birdie the short par-3 17th. But on 18, her chip from just in front to the right went long. And she just missed the 10-footer coming back.
"I had a chance," she said. "I did my best. It's OK. The last few events, I had no chance to win . . .
"[Lincicome] had a really tough lie [on 18]. To hit that shot, with the pressure, was amazing. And a great putt, too."
Shin closed with a 66, the same score she had in the opening round.
Kerr, who made her pro debut here in 1996, had a 69, which is what she'd shot on Friday. She led by two after six holes, but bogeys at 7 and 8 brought her back to the posse. She then had all pars until the last hole, which wasn't quite enough. She also lost in the finals of the Sybase Match Play championships 2 weeks ago.
"I played great," Kerr said. "Nothing went my way today. I mean, you've got to get lucky. I almost made the [birdie] putt on 17 and made the birdie on 18. I just wish I had gotten it to the hole, it was actually in the heart. But it was a great two-putt nonetheless. It's tough to have to make an 80-foot eagle putt to make it into a playoff. So I have nothing to hang my head about. You can always say what-if. It was an exciting finish, and I'm looking forward to next week."
She will be the defending champion at the State Farm Classic in Illinois. And 2 weeks after that, she'll be the defending champ at the LPGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y., which she won by double digits last summer.
"It was obviously [Lincicome's] week," said Kerr, who is the top-ranked American at No. 4 on the planet. "She hit it in the junk [at 18], and that could have been an unplayable lie. But it doesn't diminish my performance."
Still, there's only one trophy.
"Everything kind of fell my way," the winner gushed. "So it feels fantastic. You never know what [Kerr's] going to do. So I told my caddie that maybe we should go to the [practice] green. She told me, 'Why, so your hands can shake [some more]?' Obviously, that was funny at the time."
And now, the time is all hers.