DECATUR, Ill. - For most of the 2008 Duramed FUTURES Tour season, eyes and headlines focused on five-time winner Vicky Hurst of Florida. Hurst moved on to the LPGA this year, winning the developmental tour's 2008 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors on her way to the major league.
And while that was happening, one of her former amateur competitors in Monterey, Calif., was taking note -- watching Hurst's every move, and measuring herself against the smooth-swinging player who had turned pro. Today, that Californian, Mina Harigae, made sure that her name would be engraved right under the name of Hurst as the winner of the $125,000 Michelob ULTRA Duramed FUTURES Players Championship – the only major championship on the Duramed FUTURES Tour.
Harigae carded a final-round score of 4-under-par 68, fighting her way into a tie with leader Sofie Andersson (69) of Angelholm, Sweden, and then forcing a playoff when the two deadlocked in regulation at 277 (-11). Harigae closed out the win on the first playoff hole at Hickory Point Golf Club when Andersson's sudden-death putt for par missed on the left edge. She earned $17,500 for the victory.
"It was pretty much matchplay between Sofie and me," said Harigae, 19, of her win at the 25th annual tournament, following Hurst's win here in 2008. "Sofie was tough because she was making everything. I feel really good about this one because I fought for this win."
Andersson began today's final round with a one-shot lead over Harigae, Sunny Oh (71) of Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Christi Cano (71) of San Antonio. But the third-year pro rolled in a birdie putt to take the lead on the second hole, and then rolled in another birdie on No. 4 to build a two-shot advantage on the 6,594-yard course.
But while the Swede was picking up momentum, Jean Reynolds of Newnan, Ga., who won earlier this season, was blistering the front nine holes with a score of five-under 31. When Andersson bogeyed the 10th, she and Reynolds moved into a share of the lead at nine under – one shot ahead of Harigae.
Andersson regained the lead with a birdie on the 11th, but Harigae rolled in a birdie on the 12th to move into a tie with Andersson at 10 under with six holes to play. Reynolds went on to post a 7-under-par final-round score of 65 to finish third at 279 (-9).
But with Reynolds in the clubhouse, the back nine was going to come down to a nip-and-tuck match between Harigae, the rookie pro, who had turned professional after less than one semester at Duke University -- and who was fresh off her first Tour win last week in Marion, Iowa -- and Andersson, the more experienced pro, and a former collegiate winner at the University of California-Berkeley, whose last professional win came in 2007. Both were hungry to win and both had taken dramatically different routes to get here today.
Harigae took a one-shot lead when Andersson bogeyed the 13th, but the Swede stormed back into a tie with Harigae when she stuck her approach to two feet on the 15th and rolled in another birdie putt on the 15th. Harigae inched ahead again for a one-stroke advantage with a birdie on the 16th hole, but Andersson answered when she drained a 40-footer on the 17th to once again pull even with Harigae heading into the 72nd hole.
"Coming into the final round, I knew that par golf would not win today," said Andersson. "I knew it was going to take birdies and more birdies. I knew that somebody could come from behind to win."
On the 18th hole, Andersson drove into the left rough. Her approach shot landed in the short, right bunker and from the sand, she still came out short, some 25 feet below the hole. But for what looked to be an improbable putt, the Swede slammed home the par saver to force a playoff. Harigae's perfectly played approach shot to five feet seemed to signal the end of this head-to-head match, but Harigae's birdie attempt steered slightly right and pointed, instead, to sudden death.
Returning to the 18th tee for the extra hole, both players found the fairway off the tee to the right center. Andersson's approach shot hit the green and spun back to the edge of the apron, leaving a 35-foot putt uphill. Harigae's approach landed 10 feet from the flagstick. Putting for birdie, this time the rookie burned the left edge and rolled two feet past. She putted out for par. Andersson's 35-foot birdie attempt stopped four feet shot of the hole. When her par putt missed on the left edge, Harigae had earned her second consecutive title in as many weeks.
"It stinks that it came down to that little four footer," said Andersson, who hit only two fairways today. "Mina hits it straight down the fairway and straight onto the green. I was everywhere and she was right down the middle."
Indeed, Harigae is right down the middle of where she wants to be this year. She's right on target to follow Hurst down the same path to the LPGA, winning the Tour's only major championship in Decatur, cruising to the top of the list for rookie honors, where she is currently No. 1, and holding her position at the top of the money list for Player of the Year honors, where she is currently poised at No. 1 with earnings of $51,801 -- $14,651 ahead of No. 2 Jean Reynolds.
"Yeah, I expect to win, but there was a lot more pressure this week," said Harigae. "I'm a bit surprised to win because I missed a lot of putts today, but maybe I'm following in Vicky's footsteps."
And perhaps soon, breathing down her collar.
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