Tina Fischer's season isn't over after all, but her days as a non-exempt player on the LPGA Tour are.
The 30-year-old German, a long shot who was just hoping for a high finish to earn exempt status on the tour in 2002, outplayed her better-known rivals to win the inaugural Asahi Ryokuken International Championship on Sunday.
Two shots off Kris Tschetter's lead entering the final round of the last full-field domestic event of the season, Fischer turned in a 2-under-par 70 at Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club in Edgefield County to finish at 10-under-par 206.
She opened with rounds of 70-66 in the tournament that was reduced from 72 to 54 holes because of weather delays.
Fischer beat Emilee Klein and Tracy Hanson by one shot. Klein closed with a 71, and Hanson had 70. Tschetter shot 75 and finished tied for sixth.
The victory was worth $180,000 and kept Fischer's season alive. As a tournament winner this year, she qualified for this week's AFLAC Champions tournament in Semmes, Ala. She also moved up from 100th on the money list to 44th with $238,869.
Fischer missed finishing in the top 40 on the money list and qualifying for the Tour Championship in mid-November by $13,124.
The top 90 on the money list after this tournament earned exempt status for 2002. Augusta's Mitzi Edge, 97th on the money list coming in, moved up two spots after a final-round 74 left her in a tie for 33rd place.
The way Fischer had played this season, making the cut in only nine of 19 starts and finishing in the top 10 once, her No. 1 goal was to break into the top 90.
Now, with the victory, she's earned a three-year exemption.
"It means I don't have to worry that much," Fischer said. "I can make a better schedule and not have to wait to get into tournaments. I'm happy because I did what everyone's trying to achieve out here: to win."
She's the fourth straight first-time winner on the LPGA Tour and one of the most unlikely.
Fischer, who didn't turn pro until she was 25, played in 11 events in her rookie year of 1999 and didn't earn exempt status. She played the Futures Tour, a proving ground tour, in 2000, then got in 19 LPGA Tour events this season because she had high non-exempt status by tying for 14th in the 2000 LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.
"I actually thought of not playing at all anymore," Fischer said. "It was just like 'I don't know if I can make it.' Then I thought, 'I'm better than that."'
"Golf is her job," said fellow Tour player Marnie McGuire. "She loves doing it. She works hard at it. She's got that German work ethic."
Fischer was playing so well Sunday that the sight of top-ranked Annika Sorenstam's name moving up the leaderboard didn't give her pause. Sorenstam, six back at the start of the day, was within one shot of the lead early in the final round after a 4-under-par 32 on the front nine. She couldn't keep it up and finished with a 68 to tie for fourth place.
"I said to my caddie on No. 14 or 15, 'Annika is having a great round,"' Fischer said. "At that point, I didn't think she would catch me. It's up to me to play better, and I never have a problem with that. When I know somebody is having a good round, that's wonderful. I just have to try and be better. It doesn't make me nervous."
Fischer's round consisted of three birdies and a bogey. A key moment came when she followed a bogey on No. 12 with a birdie on No. 13 to move to 2 under for the day, one shot behind Hanson at the time.
Hanson would bogey Nos. 14 and 15 to fall one behind, which is where she finished after parring her final four holes.
As for Klein, the other runner-up, she made a spirited charge, striking for birdies on Nos. 12, 14 and 18 to pull within one shot.
Fischer, playing in the final group of the day with Tschetter, needed to par the difficult 18th hole to win by a shot.
After checking the leaderboard behind the 17th green, Fischer saw she led Klein, who had already finished, and Hanson by a shot.
When Fischer heard a cheer on the 18th green, she thought Hanson had made a birdie, which would have meant the two players were tied. Hanson actually made par.
After a solid drive on the par-4 No. 18, Fischer hit a 9-wood to within 15 feet of the hole. By the time she got to the green, Fischer knew she could two-putt for par, which she did.
Before Fischer could sign her scorecard, three of her friends on the LPGA Tour - McGurie, Theresa Durand and Nancy Harvey - showered her with soft drinks.
"They must not have had any champagne," Fischer said.
Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.
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