Nancy Lopez fights back tears as she acknowledges the standing ovation she received after her final Farr round ... this year.
If yesterday indeed marked Nancy Lopez's final round in the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic, then she produced a final stroke that her many Toledo fans will long remember.
Lopez finished with a 20-foot birdie putt for a 1-under 70 and the crowd responded with a chant of “One more year!”
The fans may get their wish.
When Lopez announced that 2002 would be her final year of fulltime tour play, she stopped short of calling it a retirement because of plans to play in selected future events.
Might the Farr Classic be among the select?
“You never know,” Lopez said, smiling. “I like coming here so much. It will certainly be one of my top five to pick from when [next year's] schedule comes out. Unless it absolutely doesn't fit into my schedule, I'd give it a lot of consideration.
“Every week has been really tough, emotion-wise, because most of the tournaments I selected to play in this year are my favorites. This one sure is. [Tournament director] Judd Silverman and his staff do an incredible job and I think the world of Jamie. He's such a kind man. Plus, it's a great golf course that I play well.”
After her round, tournament chairman Kent Meyers and assistant Lynne Adams presented Lopez with a framed tournament poster signed by a majority of the event's 1,500 volunteers. With it was a letter that read, in part:
“We hope to see you back here soon. Jamie is known as Toledo's favorite son and we have adopted you as our favorite daughter.”
And has Toledo seen the last of its favorite daughter?
“Maybe not,” Lopez said.
EARLY MISSES: Laura Diaz, three shots behind entering the final round, birdied the first hole yesterday and looked poised to make a charge. But she missed a five-footer on No. 2 and a six-footer on the next green and could never pull closer than within two shots the rest of the day.
“I missed a few short ones at the beginning of the day and that was a little upsetting,” said Diaz, who carded a 67.
A birdie at the 18th hole got her to 11-under and she ended up in a tie for third place with Karrie Webb, three shots behind champion Rachel Teske.
“I asked my caddie coming in how we were doing,” Diaz said. “But I had a pretty good idea. I heard a lot of noise behind us, so I knew somebody [Teske] was doing something.”
PAK-ING IT IN: Defending champion Se Ri Pak came up short in her bid for a fourth Farr Classic title. She finished with a second straight 3-under 68 and placed five shots behind the winner, Teske, at 9-under 275.
“I still had a chance on the back nine,” said Pak, who pulled within two shots of the lead after consecutive birdies at Nos. 13 and 14. “Then, all of a sudden, there weren't many holes to go and I realized it wasn't going to happen this year. I did my best, though, and I enjoyed it like I have every year.”
In the last five years, Pak has three wins, a tie for third and yesterday's tie for seventh in the Farr.
HANSON'S BEST: Tracy Hanson had to wonder what kind of day would unfurl in front of her after a discouraging bogey on the first hole put her 2-over for the tournament and 12 shots behind the leaders. The native of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and eighth-year LPGA pro played the next 17 holes in 9-under par and finished with a 63, matching the best round of her career.
“I haven't played that well in a long time,” Hanson said. “I have been struggling after the Saturday rounds and after that bogey on No. 1, I thought here we go again. But I made a couple of long putts and a lot of 12 to 15-footers and I got off the tee pretty well all day.”
Hanson, who has yet to win on the LPGA Tour and has almost $1 million in career earnings, said the leap she made up the leaderboard will give her a nice paycheck, but the injection of confidence is worth even more.
“The impact on my bank account is nice, but I think what a round like that will do for your confidence is worth even more.”
ROOKIE RACE: Natalie Gulbis expects the LPGA rookie race to go to the wire, but doesn't think it will be a two-person race between herself and Beth Bauer.
“I think Candie Kung and Stephanie Keever will be right in it too,” Gulbis said after closing the Farr Classic with a career-low 65. “I've heard people say it's one of the best rookie fields in a long time and I think it will definitely be a toss-up.”
Bauer and Gulbis were at the head of the class this week. Bauer, tied for the lead entering the final round, finished in solo second place while Gulbis tied for seventh at 9-under 275. Kung also made the cut, but finished tied for 56th at 2-over 286.
“I have to be happy with a top-10 finish considering where I stood at the start of the day,” said Gulbis, 19, who was seven shots off the pace after three rounds.
“I didn't play real clean the first three days, so I tried to keep the ball below the hole today. The course and the greens are in such good shape that if you hit the ball in the right place and read the putts right, the ball would stay right on line.”
Bauer's runner-up check for $91,325 bumped her season's earnings to $240,131 and increased her lead over Gulbis in the rookie money race to almost $100,000. Still, Gulbis leads in the LPGA's rather confusing rookie points race by a 356-340 margin.
BIG BUCKS: It was a fairly expensive day for ALLTEL, the Farr Classic's presenting sponsor. Its final-round promotion was a contribution to the Farr children's charities of $10 for every birdie and $100 for every eagle scored. There were no eagles, but 285 birdies produced $2,850 for charity.
OPPOSITES: Nothing new in 2002. Once again, the par-4 No. 1 hole at Highland Meadows proved to be the toughest for the field over four rounds with a 4.242 stroke average. On the flip side, the par-5 17th hole played to an average of 4.799 strokes and was the easiest.
LOOKING AHEAD: Next year's Farr Classic is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 11-17 at Highland Meadows with actual tournament competition Aug. 14-17.
The event will be held later than usual because Inverness Club will be hosting the U.S. Senior Open next summer on June 23-29.
The Farr is expected to return to a July date in 2004.
QUICK WORK: Kim Williams was a one-player pairing and was first off yesterday in the final round of the Farr. She punched out two hours, 47 minutes later with a 3-under 68.
Blade sports writer Matt Markey contributed to this report.
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