Tom Lehman's Sunday 71 was the worst of the three playoff participants, but his steadiness paid off in sudden death. (Getty Images)
High Drama: Lehman wins Senior PGA Championship on first hole of sudden death
Steady Tom Lehman earned his first senior major title Sunday, edging the streaking Fred Couples and David Frost in a playoff. Couples and Frost had stormed around the course in regulation, but the methodical Lehman made the only par on the extra hole.
PARKER, Colo. – Out of the 155 players who teed it up in the 71st Senior PGA Championship at Colorado Golf Club, only one managed to turn in under-par scores in each of the four rounds.
On Sunday evening, that one player – Tom Lehman – walked off the 18th green after a par on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff with Fred Couples and David Frost and hoisted the prestigious Alfred S. Bourne Trophy.
“The course requires a lot of patience,” said Lehman, who will serve as an assistant to U.S. Captain Corey Pavin at the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales this October. “It's a very strategic course. One of the reasons why I like it so much. There's so many options and decisions you have to make, and I really believe that it gives you the ability to really go for it as much as you want to or not.
“So if things aren't going well, you always have the chance of kind of playing it safe. If things are going really well, you have a chance of being aggressive,” he explained. “And there's par 5s and drivable par 4s and so there's all kinds of holes out there where you can make your decision that day depending upon how you're playing. So I would say that this week I was playing very well and I took advantage of a lot of those opportunities.”
Mark O’Meara (71) finished fourth, while Nick Price (70) was fifth and Larry Mize (70) and Bill Glasson (71) tied for sixth at 3 under.
The playoff, where Couples and Frost made things relatively easy on Lehman with a pair of double bogeys, was anticlimactic compared to the way the final round of regulation played out.
Shortly after signing his scorecard, Lehman was first to tee off in the playoff and confidently split the middle of the fairway. The same couldn’t be said for Frost and Couples, who had to wait around for Lehman to finish.
Frost hooked his shot into the left fairway bunker, just under the lip. Couples, meanwhile, overcooked his tee shot so badly it went left of the bunker and settled in a small bush.
“The longer you have to wait, I think the tougher it gets to play in a playoff,” Lehman said. “So David Frost obviously was, I wouldn't say the deck was stacked against him, but he had a longer more uphill battle. I guess he finished such a long time before we did. Fred had to wait a half an hour. I just basically finished, signed my card and went back and hit again. And I think being No. 1 off the tee, I was really hoping that I would get the first pick, so I could hit first. I think if you miss that fairway, the hole becomes much more difficult.”
From 132 yards out, Lehman hit a pitching wedge to about 10 feet and eventually two-putted for par to pick up his first solo Champions Tour win. Couples and Frost, on the other hand, were all over the course before each making a double-bogey 6.
Overall, the playoff, Lehman said, was just weird.
“I'm not sure I've ever experienced anything like that,” he said. “I turned to my caddie and I said, ‘how many shots have they taken?’ I didn't know if -- I thought that maybe Fred had taken an unplayable, but I wasn't sure and he wasn't quite sure. And I think he did, didn't he?
“I started thinking, ‘well, he had an unplayable, these guys are both making double, I think.’ Because, I have to be honest, I was nervous,” he admitted. “In having, kind of getting right there to the threshold of winning, it was the most nervous I had been all day. And unfortunately for them and they -- you drive it in the left there, you just, nothing good happens on that hole.”
Until the playoff stumble, Couples provided most of the fireworks on Sunday. He seemed to be all but out of the tournament until he suddenly soared up the leaderboard with unthinkable back-to-back eagles on Nos. 15 and 16, both par 5s, to grab a share of the lead at 7 under.
Couples didn’t make himself available for comment to reporters following the playoff.
Just moments before Couples, Frost cleaned up his third birdie in a row at No. 17, rolling in a six-footer after a beautiful tee shot.
The only player left on the course who could impact the outcome of the tournament was Lehman, the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup Team captain and 1996 Open Champion. The 54-hole co-leader capitalized on Nos. 15 and 16 with birdies on both to get to the 7-under mark. Lehman then parred in for a 1-under 71 and the final spot in the playoff.
As solid as Lehman was throughout the tournament, Frost was the force on the weekend. The South African made the cut by two shots after a dreadful 77 on Friday, but bounced back with a course-record, 7-under 65 on Saturday and added a 5-under 67 on Sunday for an amazing weekend total of 12 under. For Frost, the final round included chip-ins for birdie on Nos. 6 and 7, as well as three consecutive birdies beginning on No. 15 to get to 7 under.
Despite his co-runner-up finish, Frost said there was no way he’d be leaving Colorado disappointed.
“I played well. Tom obviously finished it off,” Frost said. “But as it turned out I was in the clubhouse first, somebody could have, one of those two guys could have bogeyed one of the last two holes. Couples could have birdied the last hole and I might not have even been here now or – well, still in the same boat, I guess.
“But, yeah, I'm very encouraged,” he added. “I hit a lot of great shots out there. I played really well on the weekend. Maybe a little unlucky today, I missed a couple of short putts for birdie. On No. 9 I missed about an 8-footer for birdie. And on No. 11 I also missed an 8-footer for birdie. So, but I must say, I chipped in twice today, which helped as well. So you get some and you give some.”
Lehman came into the final round sharing the 54-hole lead with journeyman Jay Don Blake. Blake admitted on Saturday evening that he’d be nervous thinking about the ramifications of a victory. In the end, those nerves might have been too much.
Blake shot a 4-over 76 and tied for eighth in a round that was strange to say the least. He played hole Nos. 6-9 in bogey, eagle, double bogey, birdie. The double bogey on No. 8 was because of a topped tee shot.
The back nine was turbulent for Blake as well. He made four more bogeys for a 4-over 40 on the inward nine.
Defending champion Michael Allen had a respectable showing and finished in a tie for 11th at 1 under. Even still, he’ll leave wondering what could have been.
“I had seven or eight three-putts and I never got it going with my putter,” he said. “I couldn't make any birdies. If you can't make them from 6 feet, you’ve really got no chance out here. And that's kind of the story of this week. I played pretty well tee to green, but I just was awful with the putter.”
Lindy Miller, the 53-year-old PGA Teaching Professional at Shady Oaks Country Club in Westworth Village, Texas, took low club professional honors with his tie for 29th. Miller was also the low club professional in the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, which was famously won by a 25-year-old John Daly.
“To add this, that would be great,” said Miller, who didn’t know whether he was the low club pro or not when he finished up. “But we'll just wait and see. I can't do anything with the rest of my round, obviously, and just wait and see what happens. But I'm very pleased with the way the whole week went.”
Back to the champion.
Lehman said that it would take a little time for his victory to set in. He did, however, say that if he was ranking victories, this one would be right near the top of the list because of what The PGA of America has meant to him.
“It probably hasn't quite sunk in yet,” Lehman said. “There’s always an amazing sense of satisfaction when you win. But I think to win the Senior PGA Championship with the history of having The PGA of America, that always is more significant than most. I've had so many good friends in the association and so many great experiences because of The PGA of America. The Ryder Cups and PGA Championships. And so winning this is really significant.”