Russ Cochran won the Senior British Open by two shots on Sunday, holding off fellow Americans Mark Calcavecchia and the fast-finishing Tom Watson to capture his first major title.
The 52-year-old Cochran claimed the winner’s check of $310,000 after making six birdies in a nerveless 5-under 67 in his final round at Walton Heath, closing at 12 under.
The left-hander picked up all his shots in the first 10 holes, opening a five-shot lead. He remained unruffled in the testing closing stretch despite a bogey on No. 14 that cut his advantage to two shots.
It was Cochran’s third victory on the Champions Tour but his first this season.
“It’s a big hump I’ve got over there,” said Cochran, whose son, Reed, was carrying his bag. “To do it in a major and on this golf course means so much. And to do it with the kids here, it’s even better.”
Cochran’s elder son, Ryan, was the caddie for Mike Goodes this week.
Calcavecchia had shared the overnight lead with Cochran and South Africa’s David Frost, but finished runner-up and was left to regret four-putting from 15 feet on the par-3 No. 9 for a double bogey.
Looking for a record fourth Senior British Open title, Watson was tied for third with compatriot Corey Pavin (69) at 9 under after a 67.
England’s Barry Lane shot a 70 to finish fifth at 8 under.
Nothing more than a journeyman on the PGA Tour with only one victory to his name -- at the 1991 Centel Western Open when he overhauled Greg Norman in the final round -- Cochran has blossomed in his three seasons on the senior circuit.
He won two tournaments in a three-week span in September last year and has played himself into regular contention at the majors, finishing third at the U.S. Senior Open in 2009 for a key breakthrough and a check for $175,152.
That qualified him for the Champions Tour’s high-profile events and he tied for third at last year’s Senior British Open at Carnoustie.
“That’s the beauty of the senior tour. You can have these guys that come out and shine,” Watson said. “You find these stories of the guys you don’t know about.”
Bristling with confidence after a third-round 67, Cochran opened with two straight birdies and made his move by picking up shots on Nos. 6, 7 and 8 to take the lead for the first time.
It was at that time that Calcavecchia, co-leader for the first three rounds, suffered an all-too-familiar blip. A loss of concentration can only explain how he needed three putts from 2 feet at No. 9, shaking his head ruefully as he trudged off the green.
The relentless Cochran, playing beautifully off the tee and unfazed on the greens, then rolled in a 10-footer at No. 10 for his sixth birdie of the round, opening up a five-shot lead -- the biggest this week. He shrugged off his only bogey of the round to par his way home.
Cochran was playing just his second tournament after injuring his wrist during the second round of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament in late April, keeping him out for two months. He returned at Pebble Beach two weeks ago for the Nature Valley First Tee Open, finishing tied for 10th.
“I liked him better when he was injured,” Calcavecchia said, with a smile.
The 51-year-old Calcavecchia was bidding to become the fourth player to win both the British Open and Senior British Open, after his success at Troon in 1989.