RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Her heart racing and her hands shaking, Brittany Lincicome did whatever she could to kept it together on the final holes of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
She breathed deep. She and her caddie sang country songs, mostly Sugarland and Kenny Chesney.
It worked, because she hit two brilliant shots on 18 to set up a 4-foot eagle putt that she rolled in to win her first major on Sunday.
“I can’t even describe it,” Lincicome said moments after taking the traditional plunge into the lake that surrounds the 18th green. “It’s surreal, really.”
Never worse than three strokes behind in the final round, Lincicome stayed close as her good friend Kristy McPherson and Cristie Kerr traded the lead back and forth on a perfect day at Mission Hills.
Trailing McPherson by one stroke, the 23-year-old Lincicome broke through with an amazing sequence of shots on the par-5, 485-yard 18th.
McPherson calls Lincicome “Bam-Bam” because of the length of her drives, and Lincicome lived up to that by booming a 275-yard drive down the middle of the fairway.
“It just came down to 18, and luckily my length is a strong point and I bombed it out there and went for the green,” Lincicome said.
She hit a hybrid from 210 yards that cleared the water and landed on the upper part of the green, with the ball curling down just above the hole.
“Please be good,” Lincicome said as she watched the ball fly through the desert air, then smiled when it was.
“Right when I hit it, it came off the clubface and it was exactly where we were trying to hit it and it took the slope like I was hoping it was going to, and it was really close, thank God,” Lincicome said. “If I had to make anything further than that … my hands were shaking so bad, I was almost crying. The fans were so great and cheering for me and just walking up there was a great feeling.”
Kerr rolled in a birdie putt from the fringe to tie McPherson, but Lincicome made it a moot point when she made her putt to finish with a 3-under 69. He pumped her fist and hugged McPherson, who finished tied for second with Kerr, one shot back.
It was the third career victory for Lincicome, whose previous best finish in a major was a tie for second at this tournament in 2007.
Playing in the all-Florida final threesome, she became the first American winner in the last six women’s majors. Kerr was the last to do so in the 2007 U.S. Open.
After receiving her trophy, Lincicome joined hands with her father, Tom, and caddie, Tara Bateman, and jumped into the lake.
“She was telling me at the turn, ‘Dude, I’m going to have a heart attack. My heart is beating out of my chest,’ ” McPherson said about Lincicome. “Anytime she was nervous she came over to me to calm her down. She was pretty funny out there. Yeah, we talked a good bit, and yeah, it was good to have a good friend in the last group with me.”
Lincicome, who took the first-round lead Thursday with a 66, finished with a 9-under 279. McPherson shot a 72 and Kerr a 71 on Sunday.
McPherson, leading by one shot heading to No. 18, was trying to hold on for her first LPGA Tour victory when Lincicome broke through. Lincicome opened the final round with seven straight pars before two straight birdies gave her a chance.
McPherson had a seesaw day.
She lost her overnight lead to Kerr on the second hole, pulled into a tie by making three birdies in four holes spanning the turn, dropped back when Kerr birdied the par-3 14th, then jumped back into the lead on the 15th when Kerr took a double-bogey after losing her ball out of bounds, hitting it through some trees and apparently clearing a wall onto Gerald Ford Drive.
“That hole definitely owes me in the future,” Kerr said.
“In tournaments in general, but majors in specific, it’s such a fine line you have to walk to be able to end up winning. “You have to have everything go your way. Maybe it hits the tree and drops instead of going out of bounds.”
Lindsey Wright (70) was fourth at 6 under, while Suzann Pettersen (66) and Meaghan Francella (69) tied for fifth at 5 under.
Defending champion Lorena Ochoa shot a 66 for her best round of the tournament and finished in a tie for 12th at 1 under.
Kerr started the round one shot behind McPherson, but had a three-shot lead after five holes despite some wayward driving.
Kerr jumped into the lead on the par-5 second hole, despite driving into the rough and failing to extricate herself with her second shot. She had a nice approach shot and sank an 18-foot birdie putt while McPherson had a bogey after her sand shot was short of the green.
Kerr saved par on No. 3 despite driving into the left rough, getting a break when her lie was in grass that had been trampled by the gallery.
Kerr birdied No. 4 with a tricky 10-foot downhill putt, then took a three-stroke lead when McPherson bogeyed the par-3 fifth hole by hitting her tee shot into the water.
“I felt like I was out of it early,” McPherson said. “Brittany started off slow, as well, and made a couple of good par saves. Cristie, she was springing up on both of us at one time.
“But finally on the back nine we got it to where it was a good match between all three of us. Cristie and I made a few mistakes, and Brittany made a couple of great par saves to stay in there and bring it down to the 18th hole.”