The 20th Illinois Women's Open may have seemed like a ho-hum affair. Emily Collins started the final round with a 5-stroke lead and won by 9.
It wasn't quite that easy, however, for the University of Oklahoma graduate.
Collins, in her second tournament as a professional, started double bogey-bogey and her playing partner, Michigan State graduate Allyssa Ferrell, went birdie-birdie at Mistwood in Romeoville. Collins' first swing put her in a bad spot, and she 3-putted the first hole. Suddenly that big lead was gone, and Collins seemed vulnerable.
"I was a little bit nervous having such a big lead," she said, "but I tried not to think about it."
A solid birdie on the third hole and 4 more after that steadied her nerves, and she had a 7-shot lead at the turn, an 8-stroke advantage after No. 12 and a whopping 10-shot cushion before her last bogey at No. 17.
"I wouldn't say I was surprised," said Collins, "but it was definitely exciting. I played solid all week. I'm happy with the way I played."
Other than Ferrell, none of the other 31 finalists put pressure on Collins and her 9-shot edge was an IWO record. Her 54-hole score of 212 was 4-under par and it earned her a $5,000 payday and honorary membership to Mistwood.
Ashley Armstrong, a Notre Dame golfer from Flossmoor, was the top Chicago area player. She finished in a four-way tie for second with Ferrell, who, like Collins, is preparing for LPGA Q-school; and amateurs Lisabeth Brooks, from Waunakee, Wisconsin, and Amber Schuldt, a University of Illinois golfer from Sterling.
Brooks matched Collins' 1-under 71 in the final round. The only score lower than that Wednesday was a 70 by Naperville high school phenom Bing Singhsumalee.
Collins was runner-up in the Texas Women's Open, her only other pro start, before winning at Mistwood. She's in the qualifying round for the LPGA's new Meijer Classic in Grand Rapids, Mich. When she's done in that event she will focus on net month's Q-school.
Though she attended college in Oklahoma and lives in the Dallas suburb of Colleyville, Texas, Collins has some Illinois connections. Her mother is from Bloomington and her father from DeKalb. Both attended Illinois State and Collins' caddie, Tony Costello, is a family friend who lives 20 minutes from Mistwood.
"I looked at other tournaments I could play in, and thought the Illinois Women's Open would be a good one," Collins said. "It worked out the best. I loved the course, and it was cool that my parents were from here."