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New Senior PGA Champion Denis Watson shows his affection for the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy. (Photo: PGA of America)
New Senior PGA Champion Denis Watson shows his affection for the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy. (Photo: PGA of America)

Opportunistic Watson wins Senior PGA Championship

Denis Watson took advantage of Eduardo Romero's first big mistake of the week and went on the win the 68th Senior PGA Championship for his first major victory. Romero, who led after each of the first three rounds, was undone by a costly double-bogey on the par-3 14th hole, where Watson birdied en route to a 9-under finish and two-shot win.

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Thanks to some incredible play and a fair share of luck, Zimbabwe's Denis Watson won the 68th Senior PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course on Sunday to become the first international player to win the championship since Gary Player turned the trick in 1990.

The victory was Watson's first since winning three times on the PGA TOUR 23 years ago, so why not make it a major?

"Words cannot describe the feeling and the things that I've sort of been feeling the last few weeks," said the 51-year-old Watson, who finished at 9-under, 279 total after a 4-under 68 Sunday to defeat Argentina's Eduardo Romero by two shots. "Sort of building up and playing well and trying to win. And starting to believe in my ability again."

Romero, who shot an even-par 72 in the final round, had led through 67 holes until he ran into disaster in the form of a double-bogey on the par-3 14th hole.

Romero's miscue, combined with Watson's brilliant 12-foot birdie conversion that snuck in the right edge of the cup, set up a crucial three-shot swing that gave Watson a two-shot advantage with four holes to play.

"It cost me a lot," said Romero, who had just eight bogeys or worse for the week, four of which came on the par 3s. "It cost me a double-bogey there. Then he made birdie and then that's three strokes in one hole is too much. But I played good, I was just unlucky and played bad for one hole and then I just lost the tournament by that. I'm very happy with my game. Very sad for no win this week, because I feel very strong, I feel I was playing fantastic, but the golf it's like this. Sometimes you win, sometimes lose."

The trouble at No. 14 was that after watching Watson stuff his tee shot to 10 feet, Romero yanked his into the waste area that protects the left side of the green. The ball buried so deep into the face of the waste area that only the top quarter of the ball was visible. Romero elected to take an unplayable lie and took a penalty drop two club lengths away and out of the waste area, which turned out to be no bargain. With plenty of fluffy sand within his drop area, Romero's ball nestled down like it was sinking into a bed of feathers.

"Well it was terrible drop also," Romero said. "Terrible. And the ball is plugged again.  And then it's a shot from 30 yards, but the bunker is on the way there and I have to pass a little bit, because it was very, very difficult shot. But OK, I make, I hit a good shot and then just missed for bogey. But what can I say? Nothing else to say."

In the midst of watching Romero unravel, Watson made the best of his opportunity and when his birdie putt dropped he delivered an emphatic fist pump.

After a poor drive at 15, Watson had to settle for a par and had a one-shot edge over Romero with three to play. But with a birdie to Romero's par on the par-5 16th, Watson snatched back his two-shot lead with two to play to pretty much cement his win.

"That was as pure as I can hit 4-iron," Watson said, describing his tee shot on 14. "I mean right exactly where I was aiming. I felt really bad for Eduardo. He hit a pretty bad shot, but I question how they had the face of the bunkers this week. I thought that was unfair.  When I came here six, seven weeks ago, they were not like that. They were firm and the ball filtered down to the bottom. And that's bad enough. You can make a double from down in there in a heartbeat.

"It's horrible to see something like that happen to a great player like Eduardo," he continued. "But you know, that's golf. I've had it happen to me. It's kind of nice to get on the other side of it. I had my share of duking it out at 15. I didn't care for that hole too much today."

Watson's countryman Nick Price also entered the final round just two shots off the pace, but couldn't get any momentum going and shot a 1-under-par 71 that included four birdies and three bogeys. Price's tie for third was his best finish in seven starts on the Champions Tour.

Watson's career has been plagued by injuries that limited his starts over the last 20 years. First there was the wrist and elbow surgery he had in 1989, followed by a cervical fusion in 1991. Later, he had a procedure that corrected a neck problem that had existed since 1985. He also missed a bunch of the 2006 season while recovering from right-shoulder surgery.

But Sunday's win was the exclamation point on the start of a new beginning for Watson. It was his fifth top-10 of the season on the Champions Tour in eight starts.

"I don't know if you ever feel confident about winning," he said. "I mean things can turn in a heartbeat. Especially on this golf course. So I've said all week that no matter where you are, it's still one shot at a time and you have to really focus hard."

Jeff Coston, who got into the field by virtue of his win at the 2006 Callaway Golf Senior PGA Professional National Championship, was the low PGA professional in the field with a four-day total of 4-over-par 292 that tied him for 19th.

"It means a lot, because basically the PGA Championship, whether it's the regular or the senior, it's a great opportunity for guys that are in the program or work for a living," Coston said. "I mean, it's just a neat thing. It's a memorable thing."

Ron Shelten, also a PGA Professional, provided the shot of the week in the final round when he aced the 14th hole with a 2-iron from 196 yards.

"Just faded it to the middle of the green, knowing that it was going to drift to the right, and it drifted in just the right way and landed in just the right spot," said Stelten, who tied for 33rd. "And a long time went by before they started clapping. But it must have just taken its time getting to the hole, but sure enough, there it was, actually in the hole."

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