July 4, 2010
LONDON, Ky. - Ever since her weather-shortened first tournament win as a pro back in May, Ryann O'Toole has kept her giant winner's cardboard check in the back seat of her car. That particular payday rendered a reduced purse because the washed-out Kansas tournament was shortened to only 18 holes.
But every day since the check took the back seat, the second-year pro has looked at it and made it her goal to win a full 54-hole tournament, hands-down, with no asterisks. And that goal became a reality today when O'Toole not only played three rounds, but also added an extra playoff hole to walk away as the winner of the $115,000 Falls Auto Group Classic.
"This feels like a real win," said O'Toole of San Clemente, Calif., who carded rounds of 68-69-65 for a 14-under score of 202, with a birdie in the playoff on the second trip to the 18th hole. "And I had to grind it out against a veteran player."
O'Toole's birdie on the extra hole edged out Tour veteran Angela Buzminski of Oshawa, Ontario, who posted rounds of 66-71-65 to draw even with O'Toole in regulation at 202 (-14) at the Crooked Creek Golf Community course. O'Toole's $16,100 payday boosted her from 18th to the No. 6 spot on the Tour's 2010 season money list.
Rookie Jodi Ewart of North Yorkshire, England carded a final-round 70 to finish 3rd at 12-under 204, while two-time 2010 tournament winner Christine Song of Fullerton, Calif., posted a 4-under 68 to finish fourth at 10-under 206.
"Ryann hits it a long way, and on courses like this, it's a big plus," said Buzminski, a five-time Tour winner and a current LPGA Tour member. "She's got game."
It was somehow fitting that the final round of this week's Duramed FUTURES Tour tournament in Kentucky turned into a real horse race with a downright sprint to the finish.
Playing in her fifth tournament as a pro, Ewart entered today's round with a one-shot lead and moved ahead by as many as three strokes. The recent University of New Mexico grad held the lead until her 11th hole, when O'Toole, playing two groups ahead, birdied the 12th hole to draw even when Ewart bogeyed.
But Ewart countered with a birdie on the 12th hole from 10 feet, and then added another birdie on the 14th from 12 feet.
And like any good race with a lot of track still ahead, both O'Toole and Buzminski answered. The Canadian slammed in four consecutive birdies on holes 12 through 15 to ratchet up the pressure. O'Toole answered with four more birdies on her last seven holes, including three on the last four. The three players deadlocked at 12 under, and again at 13 under.
Playing in the same group in what felt like match play, Buzminski and O'Toole both had eagle chances on the par-five 18th hole in regulation. A bomber off the tee, O'Toole used a 4-iron from 195 yards to reach the 514-yard final green in two shots. She missed the 30-foot eagle chance to birdie from three feet. Buzminski chipped from the back fringe and made her tap-in for birdie on the 18th, drawing even again with O'Toole at 14 under.
Meanwhile behind them on the course, Ewart flew the green on the par-four 17th hole and didn't get up and down for par to drop back to 12 under. That meant she would have to eagle the last hole to join Buzminski and O'Toole in the playoff.
"I knew I had to hole it," said Ewart, a 2008 member of the Curtis Cup team for Great Britain & Ireland. "And I gave it my best."
Ewart's second shot into the 18th landed in the right greenside bunker. She blasted out to about 10 feet and two-putted for par. That sent Buzminski and O'Toole back to the 18th tee without her for the playoff.
"I knew Ryann would at least birdie that hole because she hits it so long, so I knew I also had to make at least a birdie," said Buzminski, who hit 16 greens in regulation and needed only 27 putts prior to the playoff.
Buzminski gripped down on a 3-wood on her second shot in the playoff, but hung it out to the left in the rough of the 18th hole. With a "fluffy lie" from the left rough, the left-hander hit a wedge to 15 feet. Her birdie attempt rolled over the top of the cup and Buzminski putted out for par.
With fellow professional Blair Lamb on her bag for today's final round, O'Toole battled nerves and marveled at how calm Buzminski was throughout the afternoon.
"She was so calm, so mellow, and she was on fire with her putter," admitted O'Toole. "I told Blair to tell me a story or something because I couldn't let it get in my head that this veteran was that calm when I was that nervous. I had to just stick to my game."
O'Toole did, in fact, stick to her game and struck her sticks like a player much older than her 23 years. Once again, the former UCLA collegian laced her second shot into the 18th green in two, landing 30 feet below the hole. Her eagle chance rolled a foot short of the cup. With a win right at her fingertips, the Californian stroked in the birdie for the victory.
It was something she had thought about since early May when she earned her first pro victory in the abbreviated event. And now as a cast member in the Golf Channel's "Big Break Sandals Resort" show with young autograph seekers waiting for her at Tour stops, O'Toole wanted a little validation. Playing head to head against a veteran winner today, she finally got it.
"She just wanted to win a tournament in three rounds to prove that she can hold her own against anyone," said fellow Californian and Tour member Nicole Smith.
And to add another giant cardboard winner's check for the full amount to the back seat of her car as a reminder that the rose is in the payday for a race well run.
--Story by Lisa Mickey, Futures Tour