2002: LPGA - Diaz right at home with Corning victory

Corning, N.Y.

Laura Diaz is quickly learning how to win. And the rest of the LPGA is taking notice.

Diaz’s two-stroke Corning Classic victory over Rosie Jones was the American’s second triumph of the year – and her four-year career. It also made her the first native New Yorker to win the Corning Classic, a tournament that is a 24-year LPGA tradition.

“To be able to win in New York is incredible,” said Diaz, who grew up in Scotia, a town near Albany. “It means so much to me to be able to have my family with me when I win, because winning doesn’t happen every week and family doesn’t come out every week.”

She’s not winning every week yet, but Diaz is doing her fair share. Her victory May 26 made her the LPGA’s second multiple winner in 2002, joining top-ranked Annika Sorenstam, who didn’t compete at Corning Country Club.

Diaz’s $150,000 top prize also moved her into second place on the money list with $459,699, behind only Sorenstam, who has captured three titles and $759,679. Diaz also is second to Sorenstam in player of the year points and fourth in scoring average.

Pretty heady stuff for a 27-year-old player who had never won before capturing the Welch’s/Circle K Championship in March.

According to Jones, who had a closeup view of Diaz’s steady 2-under 70 performance in Sunday’s final group, the impressive numbers are no fluke.

“I think she’s really getting comfortable and confident,” said Jones, who had a 12-under-par 276 total to Diaz’s 14-under 274. “She manages her game pretty good and she’s got a lot of passion. She’s one of our great stars.”

Most thought the more experienced Jones, 42, would be the player to beat in Sunday’s final round, which began with her trailing Diaz by a stroke. But Jones – who won Corning titles in 1996 and ’97, and has eight top-five finishes here – never made a charge.

“I felt kind of flat out there,” said Jones, who had a final-round 71 to finish one stroke ahead of New Zealand’s Marnie McGuire and Italy’s Silvia Cavalleri. “I really tried hard to put some pressure on.”

Although she birdied the par-5 second hole to tie for the lead, a birdie by Diaz on the par-4 sixth hole and a Jones bogey on the par-4 eighth put Jones two shots behind, a margin Diaz maintained with a 30-foot chip-in to save par on No. 9.

Jones pulled within a stroke with a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th, but Diaz never faltered on the final three holes, finishing with a birdie on No. 18 for her final two-shot advantage.

“I was ready to pounce because they’re all pretty tough holes,” Jones said of the finishing stretch. “And when you’re young and you’re leading, you get nervous. I just couldn’t hit it close enough to really get her nervous.”

Perhaps one reason Diaz wasn’t feeling the heat is because she never glanced at the scoreboard until the final hole, when caddie Thad Kael told her it was finally OK to look.

“It was hard because I didn’t really have any idea how the other players were doing,” said Diaz. “It was an intense day.”

Just another step in learning to win.



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