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Misinformed leader loses AJGA tourney


© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 14, 2001

PALM HARBOR -- As Kevin Na butchered the final hole, the name Jean Van de Velde came out in whispers around the 18th green of the Copperhead course.

Like the Frenchman at the 1999 British Open, Na let the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions winner's trophy slip away with a triple bogey on the 18th hole. But there was a twist.

Na did not know he was giving away the tournament.

Friday at the windy Westin Innisbrook Resort, the 17-year-old Californian began the day at 5-under par, two shots ahead of playing partner Casey Wittenberg. By the time they reached 18, Na stood at 6-under, four ahead of Wittenberg.

Na thought he and Wittenberg, the top two players in the Golfweek/Titleist rankings, were the only players in contention.

He had no idea Webb Simpson, playing one group ahead, was about to turn in a 68 and go to the clubhouse at 4-under. Not until Na signed his card did he learn about his fate from a friend.

"I just blew the biggest tournament of the year because I didn't know where the other guy was at," said Na, who finished alone in second, one ahead of Wittenberg.

"Who knew (Webb) was going to shoot 68 in these kinds of conditions? If he's playing that great, someone should have told me. It's just unfortunate."

On the 18th, Na had thoughts of breaking 70 as he stood over his tee shot. With the added adrenaline, he hooked it left into a fairway bunker.

Then an intended hook out of the bunker hit a tree and bounced farther left and backward. From a messy lie behind trees, he could only hit the ball sideways, and the escape attempt ended up in the same trap. His fourth shot settled right of the green, and an average chip left a 5-foot putt for double bogey. Na missed it and tapped in for 7 on the par 4.

Simpson, standing behind the green, went from preparing for a playoff to accepting congratulatory handshakes.

"I couldn't believe it," he said.

Starting the day, Simpson said his only goal was to threaten the leaders, and he did just that with five birdies in the first 12 holes. The 15-year-old Raleigh, N.C., resident gave two back with bogeys at Nos. 7 and 16, but the 68 was enough to secure his first AJGA victory.

"I just had to play one shot at a time, and it turned out things went my way," Simpson said.

A similar approach also paid off for Lisa Ferrero, who easily prevailed on the girls side.

The reigning U.S. Girls Junior Amateur champion started the round with a two-shot lead and built on it quickly with a birdie at the second and an eagle at the par-5 fifth.

On the fifth, she hit her drive down the middle of the fairway. Then play was suspended for 20 minutes while a storm passed through.

Upon returning, Ferrero pulled a 3-wood for an approach shot of just less than 250 yards, believing the green and the group on it were unreachable. Instead, she knocked it to 4 feet from the hole and made the putt.

Ferrero also had four bogeys on the day, but an even-par 71 and four-round total of even-par 285 made for a four-shot victory in her last AJGA tournament.

Jackie Beers shot 68, the round of the day on the girls side, to climb to second at 4-over.

Playing with Ferrero in the final group, Chamberlain's Mallory Code carded 76 and finished tied for fourth at 7-over.

Pinellas Park's Brittany Lincicome shot 75 to finish at 13-over, tied for 13th, and Code's older sister, Whitney, finished 22nd at 19-over.

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