SIKESTON -- Bob Ralston surprised himself a bit with a wire-to-wire victory at the Health Facilities Rehab Heartland Senior Tournament.
Ralston, the leader throughout, shot a final round 68 to win the three-round tournament contested by Heartland Players Senior Tour professionals at Bootheel Golf Club on Friday.
"You know, I thought about that when I finished the round," said Ralston. "For me, it's easier to come from behind. I've been out there in front three or four times and it's tough to try to stay aggressive. Your mentality just doesn't let you do it when you're trying to protect a lead, but I played good today."
Following two days of intermittent rain which affected course conditions, Friday's round was finally played on a dry track.
"The golf course had dried out so it played a little shorter, except for the wind," said Ralston. "The wind picked up and when the wind picks up, anything can happen. Several holes played quite a bit different than they had the previous rounds."
Ralston's 196 total was four shots better than runner-up Bill Anderson, whose 67 was the round of the day.
"Bill (Anderson) played really strong," said Ralston. "We played together today and he made a couple of mistakes early in the round but pulled it together and played real solid from there on in."
Bruce Vaughan, the Heartland Tour's current money leader, finished third at 201.
Ralston, with the addition of his $5,000 purse, moved into second place on the money list.
An Arkansas Razorback and resident of Little Rock, Ralston had stints on the PGA Tour in 1980-81-82. He played the Champions Tour in 2000, then was forced to leave for a family sickness in 2001-02 before returning for the 2003-04 seasons. When not on Tour, he is a club pro in Arkansas.
"He's been one of the best players in the state of Arkansas for many, many years," said Gary Curry, founder and president of the Heartland Players Senior Tour. "Bobby can golf his ball, rounds in the 60s are common for him. He missed the practice round so had not seen this golf course until Wednesday morning, but he comes in cold turkey and shoots a 63. It just shows you the caliber of player he is."
The nine-time Heartland Tour winner credited a swing change for his stellar play, including previous rounds of 63 and 65.
"I've been working on my game, making a few swing changes," said Ralston. "I took a couple of weeks off, then played in the (South Central) Section down in Oklahoma this week and played really, really solid and had a lot of confidence coming in here this week.
"Anytime you make a swing change, it's tough for a little while. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but, for the most part, it worked pretty good. The short game kind of saved me when it didn't work."
Ralston said he will play a charity event in Springfield, Mo., next week, then chase the Champions Tour as a Monday qualifier for a couple of weeks.
Jeff Ketterman, manager and club professional at Bootheel Golf Club, was pleased with the week-long activities associated with the inaugural tournament.
"I felt it went real well," he said. "Health Facilities is a great sponsor and I think it was a success all the way around. The community got a well-deserved shot in the arm for the economy and the tournament raised money for some charities. So everybody wins."
Curry announced that the Heartland Tour would return next year.
"We're coming back to Sikeston," he said. "We have a contract for 2007. Jeff (Ketterman) really took good care of us and the golf course. Kenny Bramlett (course superintendent) and his staff kept it going every morning at 5, working on bunkers, mowing fairways and getting greens prepared.
"Kudos to Jeff and his staff."