Ever since she scored her first and only victory on the LPGA Tour, Tina Barrett has been haunted by the feeling that it was a fluke.
Near the end of her rookie season two years ago, Barrett won the Mitsubishi Motors Ocean State Open in Cranston, R.I. Since the top 13 money-winners at the time were playing in the World Championship of Women's Golf that same weekend, the field she beat was not of the highest quality.
Now, after experiencing nothing but frustration through 1990 and early 1991, Barrett is in position to erase the self-imposed asterisk from her record. She has a one-stroke lead going into today's final round of the Inamori Classic at StoneRidge.
A two-under par 70 Saturday gave Barrett a 54-hole total of 209 and sent her past Laura Davies, who shot a 72 and stood one stroke back with Robin Walton.
Also in the hunt with 18 holes to go were Missie Berteotti and Judy Dickinson, who moved into a tie for fourth place at 212, and Missie McGeorge, Martha Foyer and Lori Garbacz, who climbed to a tie for sixth at 213. Rounds of 67 by Berteotti and McGeorge were the best of the tournament to date.
A victory by Barrett in the Inamori would be considerably more meaningful than the one she earned in 1989. Seven of 1990's top 13 money-winners are here, including two of the all-time top 10, Betsy King and Ayako Okamoto.
Asked if the field here were tougher, she said, "On paper it probably is, but when you're in contention, it's tough no matter what kind of field it is."
Barrett acknowledged that she considered her rookie triumph somewhat tainted.
"Sometimes I let it get to me," she said. "I realize that I won against a lesser field. Sometimes it preys on my mind. It would make me feel good knowing that I could win twice and that the 'fluke' idea would be out."
Barrett, 24, a resident of Baltimore and a cum laude graduate of Longwood College in Virginia, has won only $41,558 in her career, including just $3,915 this year. She got $22,500 of that with her 1989 victory, in which she beat Nancy Brown by two shots.
"This is only the second time I've been in contention," Barrett said. "Winning here would really be special for me."
Barrett has been consistent all week, shooting 70, 69 and 70.
"I felt like I mentally handled it well today," she said. "I was struggling in the last five holes, but I managed to contain myself. I was pretty nervous most of the day, and I tended to guide the ball. Fortunately, I made the shots I had to make."
Her case of nerves notwithstanding, Barrett lost no time in nudging Davies out of the lead. She pulled even on the first hole when Davies bogeyed and went ahead with a birdie on the second. Davies caught her with a birdie on No. 17, but fell back again by blowing a three-foot par putt on 18.
Walton had a roller-coaster type of day. She went from four under par to six under, back to four under and back again to six under. She trailed Barrett by four strokes with five holes to play but made up three strokes despite a bogey on 15. She birdied 14, 16 and 17.
Barrett, Davies and Walton comprised the last threesome--as they will today--and Barrett said she wasn't awed by the long-hitting Davies' practice of using irons exclusively.
Thursday and Friday, Davies had taken the driver out of her bag once each day, for the second shot on 10. Saturday, she didn't use it at all. On the par-three 18th hole, she teed off with an eight-iron.
"I outdrove her on some holes," Barrett said. "Of course, she's longer than anybody else on the tour by about 20 yards. Some of her shots were intimidating, but not her."
Typically, the mild-mannered Davies took her 18th-hole frustration in stride.
"I could have shot a really low round today, but it wasn't my time to hole 'em," Davies said. "I'm just happy to be in position to win. This is my first chance in ages, so whatever happens, it's been a good week."
Davies, a 27-year-old Briton, has won four LPGA Tour events, including the 1987 U.S. Open, which she entered while a member of the European tour. Her last victory was in the Lady Keystone Open in Hershey, Pa., in 1989.
Walton, 35, a University of Washington graduate from Scottsdale, Ariz., has yet to win since turning pro in 1979. Asked when she last came this close to victory, she said, "I can't remember."
Still, Walton showed no outward signs of being discouraged by her victory famine.
"It's real easy to get down on yourself, but that's counterproductive," she said. "Today I wasn't really focused until I made a 35- or 40-foot putt on 13. After that, I knew what I wanted to do on every shot.
"My game is pretty solid right now. I just have to go out tomorrow and start concentrating before the 13th hole."
Defending champion Kris Monaghan, continuing to fight back from a first-round 76, shot a 70 Saturday and became a longshot contender in the Inamori Classic at 215. "I took an elevator ride," she said. "My shots were either great or ugly. I really butchered 17. But I putted well, and I'm upbeat right now."
Dee Dee Lasker of San Diego and Meg Mallon of Ramona shot par 72s and went into today's closing round at 219 and 221, respectively. Mallon said, "My five-wood saved me today. I should bronze it. And I birdied 12 again. If I could play 12 all week, I'd be way under par."
Judi Pavon of Wauwatosa, Wis., a rookie and the only left-hander on the LPGA Tour, assured herself of her first payday when she made the cut. She stands at 220 after three rounds. "It's a nice feeling to reach this milestone," she said. "For the first time (in three tries), I can wear all the golf clothes I brought with me." . . . Tee time today will be 7:15 a.m., with the three leaders starting at 11:30. Prime Ticket will televise from 2 to 4 p.m.