PALM HARBOR — Holding a three-stroke lead and 2 under for the day with eight holes to play, Laurie Rinker appeared well on her way to winning the LPGA Legends Tour Open Championship at Innisbrook Resort's Island Course for her first Tour victory.
Then nerves kicked in and what should have been a comfortable back-nine victory lap turned tense Sunday.
Needing to two-putt from 10 feet on 18, Rinker relaxed enough to roll in a tricky, downhill 3-footer and win by one shot over Trish Johnson, Lorie Kane and Barb Mucha.
Rinker, 51, a Florida graduate from Stuart, played her final round at 1-over 74 to finish the two-day tournament at 5-under 141. Last year at Innisbrook, Rinker led by one going into the final round, was 4 over on Sunday and tied for seventh.
"That last hole, I was pretty nervous," said Rinker, who earned $30,000. "It's hard to play when your stomach is in your throat."
As Kane walked up the 18th fairway, the scoreboard behind the green changed, showing that Rinker had bogeyed 17 and Kane and Rinker were now tied at 5 under. Facing a downhill 15-footer for birdie, Kane left her putt 5 feet short. Her par putt slid by the hole.
"I whiffed it, totally mishit the first putt," Kane said. "I thought I hit a good second putt, but that happens. I'm happy for Laurie. She's had some really close calls all season and played well today."
Leading by one, Rinker's drive on 18 struck a tree along the left edge but got a kick into the middle of the fairway. She hit a wedge to 10 feet, came up short on her birdie attempt, then rolled in the championship putt, throwing her hands up and letting out a sigh of relief.
"That last putt was a weird putt," Rinker said. "It looked so fast, and it's hard to make yourself hit it."
Rinker started Sunday's final round at 6 under and moved to 8 under after birdies on Nos. 3, 4 and 5.
Rinker bogeyed No. 9 but recovered with a 30-foot putt on the par-5, 425-yard 10th hole.
On 11, though, Rinker drove into an unplayable lie, and her double bogey combined with Kane's birdie on 12 brought the top two golfers on the Legends Tour season money list into a tie for the lead.
"I lost my confidence a little bit after that double bogey," Rinker said.
Tied through 12, Rinker shot 1 over through the final six holes while Kane was 2 over.
"I did have quite a few chances," Kane said. "I did some really good stuff. I thought I rolled the ball on the lines that I intended, I just didn't hole anything."
Johnson, a rookie on the 45-and-over tour and Rinker's playing partner, was steady over the final round, recording two birdies and one bogey to finish tied for second at 4-under par 142. Mucha was at even par after 27 holes but birdied four of the final nine to move into contention.
"I had a putt for birdie on 17 and another on 18 that I just missed," Mucha said. "But I played solid."