Big Breaks Tucker Nets FUTURES Tour Win


EL PASO, Texas -- It wasn't quite the typical Gatorade shower athletes and coaches receive, but it was close enough for Kristina Tucker of Stockholm, Sweden, as she captured her first professional title in the United States on Sunday at the El Paso Golf Classic.
Tucker finished the Duramed FUTURES Tour's fifth event of the year at 11-under-par with a three-round total of 205 to earn the $11,900 winner's prize.
She beat out Leah Wigger (73) of Louisville, Ky., Sophia Sheridan (68) of Guadalajara, Mexico, and Stella Lee (68) of Seoul, South Korea, all at 8-under-par 208, by three shots for top honors.
Tucker was doused with water bottles by fellow players Briana Vega of Andover, Mass., and Danah Ford of Indianapolis, Ind., after she tapped in her final putt for birdie on the 18th green. The nimble-footed Swede danced out of the way and avoided getting soaked, embracing her counterparts instead and celebrating her long overdue and first professional win stateside. Her only previous professional win came on the Swedish Telia Tour.
With today's win, Tucker became the third Swede to win a Duramed FUTURES Tour title, following up Sofie Andersson's win in 2007 at the Aurora Health Care Championship in Lake Geneva, Wis.
'It was a lot of fun and I'm proud to represent my country', Tucker said after posing for pictures by the Swedish flag. 'It's my fifth year out here and I finally got it together. My heart was pounding coming up the last green.'
It was a long time coming for the Duramed FUTURES Tour veteran whose previous career-best finish was a second-place showing at the 2007 Hunters Oak Golf Classic in Queenstown, Md. Even though Tucker said she felt the pressure on her last hole, that pressure was alleviated when she planted a 190-yard, 5-iron approach shot to within two feet of the cup.
'I've never hit a 5-iron that long before,' Tucker marveled. 'I usually only hit it about 165 yards. It was the shot of my life.'
The former standout at Duke University was overjoyed with her win and was on the phone with her husband, Paul Tucker, a former professional player on the NGA Hooters Tour, just moments after the awards ceremony.
'I went to bed really nervous last night,' said Tucker, who was a contestant on The Golf Channel's 'Big Break>Hawaii' in 2006.'I talked to my husband (Paul) and he just said to 'calm down and go get them''.
Strangely enough, the El Paso Golf Classic tournament director, Bob Peterson, was also Tucker's playing partner during the week's pro-am event, sponsored by Bank of the West.
'He was able to tell me where to hit the ball in the fairways,' Tucker said with a grin.
Known as a putting extraordinaire, Tucker had unusual struggles throughout the day on the greens. She carved out three birdies on the back nine, overcoming a pair of bogeys on the front nine.
'I really wasn't happy with the way I putted after nine holes,' Tucker said. 'I learned that I don't have to hit perfect shots all of the time. It's aboutminimizing mistakes, and today I was able to do that.'
Tucker and Wigger were knotted at 8-under par before a birdie and bogey on the 11th hole created some cushion for Tucker. They both admitted that putting wasn't their strength on Sunday. Already a 2008 tournament winner from the event in Daytona Beach, Fla., Wigger was hanging with Tucker step for step through the front nine before her own putting troubles proved costly.
'I had plenty of opportunities to make birdies today,' said Wigger, now in her second professional season out of the University of Virginia. 'I hit the ball well, but I knew it'd be tough. It got to the point where I couldn't trust my lines.'
Wigger still earned $6,290 and is closing in on current money leader Vicky Hurst of Melbourne, Fla., in a hurry. Hurst, who skipped the El Paso tournament to play as a sponsor's exemption on the LPGA Tour last week, has made $22,277 through four events --a slim $158 difference to Wigger's earnings through the same number of tries.
For Sheridan, a member of the LPGA Tour in 2007, she felt like the pieces of the puzzle were finally coming together. The Mexican player posted a career-best finish on Sunday and gave Tucker a run for her money with her best round of the tournament at 4-under-par 68.
'I haven't been chasing the lead this close in quite a while,' said Sheridan, a third-year pro who played collegiately at the University of California-Berkeley. 'I had a lot of fun today. I can't remember the last time I had a bogey-free round, but I like it.'
Sheridan had an extra spring in her step as she leaped over the scoring tent rope and was greeted by a gallery of Mexican fans that had been following her throughout the round.
Lee, a fourth-year Duramed FUTURES Tour pro, also registered a career-best finish with her tie for second and tied Sheridan's final-round scoreof 4-under-par 68. She made the Texas swing a memorable one, placing in a tie for 23rd a week ago in McAllen, Texas.
'I really like McAllen because I've done so well there,' said Lee, referencing her previous career-best finish there in 2006. 'I missed the cuts the last two years in El Paso, so I told myself this year, 'I'm going to make the cut.''
The Duramed FUTURES Tour is idle next week before resuming play May 16-18, in Leawood, Kan., for the Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City Championship.