Playoff Goes to George

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Futures TourDECATUR, Ill. -- Only a week ago, Stephanie George was asking herself a lot of questions about her future in professional golf. After playing her way into the top 15 during the first round of the Lima Memorial Hospital Foundation Futures Classic, she missed the 36-hole cut the very next day by one shot.
 
One shot. It was close, but George felt she was so far away from being where she needed to be. Her best finish had been a tie for 18th at the fourth Futures Tour event in Wichita and she had missed three tournament cuts in nine tries. So the native of Myerstown, Pa., sat herself down and asked some hard questions.
 
I wondered if I had the golf game, said George, a second-year Futures Tour professional who played collegiately at Radford University in Radford, Va. I wondered if I had the desire to get to the LPGA. I had a lot of doubts in my mind.
 
But if there were questions, George got some answers when she won a two-hole playoff for her first professional title at the $60,000 Michelob Light Futures Charity Golf Classic, presented by Miles Chevrolet. George was paired with one-time 2003 Futures Tour winner Stacy Prammanasudh of Enid, Okla., and Lisa Strom of Huntersville, N.C., whose momentum seemed to be pointing her toward her own first professional win at the Futures Tours longest-running tournament, in its 19th year.
 
George was the mystery player in the final Sunday pairing. In post-tournament interviews, one local TV station sheepishly admitted they didnt even have any live footage of her playing. She was the unproven pro who lacked Prammanasudhs four-time All-American status at the University of Tulsa. She also couldnt match Stroms massive distance off the tee. But George was a plodder, a scrapper, a nervous smoker, a silent grinder who was determined to get something out of her game this week.
 
She was more focused on finishing in the top 10 than on winning and because nothing was expected, she had everything to gain. That she did, with rounds of 69-69-70 to finish at 8-under 208. George played one putt better than Prammanasudh, who bogeyed the second playoff hole (No. 17), and one extra playoff hole better than Strom, who bowed out after the first extra hole with a par.
 
Ive played with Lisa and seen Stacy play and I knew I could never count anybody out, said George, who collected an $8,400 winners check and nearly doubled her total earnings in 13 events over the last two seasons. But I felt very comfortable this week and a lot more relaxed, so maybe thats why I played the best three days of golf Ive ever played in my life.
 
Georges move up the leader board was steady for 54 holes. After the first round at the 6,432-yard, par-72 Hickory Point Golf Course, she was tied for sixth. By Saturday, she was tied for second with Strom and Erika Wicoff of Hartford City, Ind. By Sundays final round, she suffered a double-bogey on the eighth hole with an unplayable lie but ran off four birdies on the back nine holes in a timely finish. She birdied the 10th from eight feet and played the par-3 13th hole at 3-under par for the week, ramming in a 20-foot birdie in the final round. Then she drained a 10-footer for birdie at 15.
 
The most crucial birdie came at the last hole when George calmly stroked in a five-foot birdie to tie Strom at 8-under 208. All Prammanasudh had to do was make her five-foot-par putt at the 18th hole in regulation and the tournament was hers. But the Oklahoman missed, giving George and Strom another chance to win in the playoff.
 
Its disappointing, especially after I made a 25-foot birdie on the 17th to get to one up with one hole to play, said Prammanasudh.
 
The trio went back to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole. Strom was eliminated after escaping an errant drive and salvaging a par from the left rough, while Prammanasudh birdied with a 15 footer and George pured a bunker shot from 130 yards to two feet for her birdie. George and Prammanasudh then returned to the par-3 17th hole, where George hit her pitching wedge to 20 feet. Her first putt stopped 1 1/2 feet short of the hole.
 
All I could think was Dont yank it, said George, who smoothed in the putt for par.
 
Prammanasudhs tee shot on the 17th landed 12 feet from the hole. Her birdie effort ran three feet past the hole, then her par attempt once again slipped past the cup for bogey, giving George her first win.
 
I was surprised when Stacy didnt jam it in there on 17, said George. And when I missed my birdie putt, I figured that was it.
 
And it was, except that it was Georges week to win.
 
Her game has come such a long way, said fellow Futures player Michelle Simpson of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., one of a half dozen players who rushed the green to celebrate with George and later douse her with champagne. Consistency is something she talks about a lot and she had it this week. You could see that she believed in herself.
 
For George, she had come full circle from her little heart-to-heart talk with herself only a week ago. And suddenly, winning a golf tournament didnt seem like an impossible dream.
 
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