2006: Lincicome overlooked no more

By Chuck Stogel

Gladstone, N.J.

With all the hullabaloo about the bright young stars in the field, and the added clamor of fans longing for a final-round matchup of the top two seeds, Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie, it’s understandable if Brittany Lincicome was overlooked at the outset of the HSBC Women’s World Match Play Championship.

But after solidly defeating Juli Inkster, 3 and 2, in the July 9 championship match, Lincicome dramatically laid claim to her own status as a rising star alongside the likes of Paula Creamer, Lorena Ochoa, Morgan Pressel and the mega-popular Wie.

“Morgan, Paula, we came up through the junior ranks together, and they deserve (the recognition),” said Lincicome, after her first tour victory. “They’ve been playing well, and I wasn’t. Now that (I’ve won), my name will get out there.”

Not that you couldn’t see it coming. At 5-foot-10 and bobbing a long flowing blond ponytail, it’s hard to miss Lincicome on the course. As an amateur, she was a standout on the AJGA circuit and even led the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open after the first round. Last year as an LPGA rookie, the Seminole, Fla., resident had a so-so season, finishing 72nd on the money list with no top 15 finishes, but she did lead the tour

in driving distance with a 270.3-yard average.

This year, she steadily had been moving toward that breakout victory.

Coming into the HSBC at Hamilton Farm, her first professional match-play competition, Lincicome had upped her driving average to 281.7, posted three top 10s this season – including third place at the Takefuji Classic in April – and just the week before was tied with Sorenstam and Wie for the third-round lead at the Women’s Open before fading to seventh with a final-round 78.

Star on the rise? No, star is here.

“This is a huge accomplishment,” said Lincicome, who was seeded 39th and pocketed $500,000 to boost her season’s winnings to $764,806, sixth on the money list. “It’s what I’ve been trying to do since I was a little girl, (to) play on the LPGA Tour and win.”

To get to the final, Lincicome, 20, had to stage several comebacks. She was nearly ousted in the first round when she was 3 down after nine holes but rallied to defeat Michele Redman at the 20th hole.

Then, after cruising past the No. 2-seeded Wie, 4 and 3, in a Saturday afternoon quarterfinal, Lincicome mounted a late rally in a Sunday morning semifinal to eliminate the leading money winner this season, Ochoa.

Ochoa led 1 up after 16 holes, but lost the 17th with a bogey 4 and Lincicome then won the match on the 19th hole with a birdie-3.

Her long-driving ability certainly helped to defeat Inkster.

“Driving was my strong point all week,” said Lincicome, who led 5 up after eight holes. “If someone is outdriving you by 60 yards, it wears on you. It was a big advantage for me having wedges into greens.”

For the $2 million tournament, in just its second year, the final two days offered considerably more sizzle than 2005, when Sorenstam also lost in the quarterfinals. This year’s final four comprised three of the top eight seeds, versus only one top seed in 2005, when No. 60 Marisa Baena gained her one and only tour victory by defeating No. 47 Meena Lee, 1 up, for the championship.

For Inkster, 46, whose oldest of two daughters is only four years younger than Lincicome, finishing second continued a comeback player-of-the-year season. After going winless in 2004 and ’05, the winner of seven majors captured her 31st LPGA victory in March at the Safeway and now has eight top 10s in 2006, including a sixth-place finish the week before at the Women’s Open.

Inkster, who was seeded eighth, has a legacy of success in amateur and professional match play. She won 18 consecutive matches in taking home three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur crowns (1980-82) and has a 5-1 record in Solheim Cup singles. To get to the HSBC championship, Inkster rallied from 3 down to edge Sorenstam, 1 up, in the quarters in what may have been the best-played match of the tournament. She followed by easily beating U.S. Solheim Cup teammate Creamer, 5 and 4, in the semis. In that match, Inkster registered seven birdies in 14 holes.

“Overall, I played very well,” said Inkster, who earned $300,000. “I don’t know why I didn’t play good (in the final). I got off to a bad start and I hit some bad iron shots.”

Fatigue may have played a part, with six matches in four days including double rounds Saturday and Sunday following 36 holes the previous Sunday in the Women’s Open.

“I’m tired,” conceded Inkster. “It’s been two very mentally grinding weeks, being in the hunt. I’m kind of more disappointed this week because I felt like I didn’t play as well as I should have (in the championship).”

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