By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The late Jock Hutchison was the oldest player to ever win a major championship when he claimed the 1947 Senior PGA Championship at age 62.
On Sunday, 61-year-old Tom Watson became the second oldest to accomplish the feat when he deftly poured in a 3-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against David Eger at a scorching hot and steamy Valhalla Golf Club to win the 72nd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.
Watson shot a 2-under 70 in the final round – to deadlock Eger at 10-under-par 278 – and was the only player in the field with all four rounds under par (70-70-68-70). He earned $360,000 for the win and took home the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy.
"When you're walking up the 18th hole and you have a chance to win a tournament like this, you're nervous," Watson said. "You're nervous. But you've been there before. And I said, 'okay, I know that level of feeling in my gut and now let's go take care of business.'"
Eger, a four-time winner on the Champions Tour, recorded the best round of the day Sunday, a 5-under 67.
Starting the final frame four off the lead, Eger figured he had no chance and felt 12 or 13 under would be the number required to win or get in a playoff.
“I was very shocked,” he said. “I didn't look at a board on the front nine. And when I parred 12, I looked at the board and said, ‘whoa, you know, there it is.’ And I parred 13 and 14 and birdied 15 and looked at the board again and said, ‘oh, all right.’ And I just wanted to stay in the moment and hit the shots one at a time, as the old saying goes, and there's nothing more true in golf than stay within the moment and hit one shot at a time. Don't get ahead of yourself. Don't start memorizing a speech walking up the 18th hole, even with a two-stroke lead.”
Kiyoshi Murota finished alone in third, one shot out of the playoff, and Hale Irwin – who was bidding to become the oldest major champ of all time at 65 (he turns 66 on Friday) – finished in fourth at 8 under.
Murota shot an even-par 72 in the final round with an incredibly colorful scorecard that included six bogeys, six birdies and six pars.
“I played my Murota golf to the best of my ability,” he said. “However, my putting had left something to be desired. Putting on Sunday is extra hard.”
Irwin suffered a double-bogey and bogey back-to-back at Nos. 6 and 7 to drop back to 7 under. Another bogey at 12 pretty much knocked him out of the tournament, but he did manage birdies on Nos. 14 and 17 to finish up with a 1-over 73.
Defending champion Tom Lehman tied for 22nd at even-par 288.
Up until this week, Watson had been in a bit of a slump. He had played just two individual Champions Tour events in the last two months, resulting in a tie for 56th and a tie for 32nd. While he was home practicing in Kansas City last week, he said nothing was clicking. Then, just before he arrived at Valhalla, he said he was able to flip a switch.
Suddenly, he was hitting the ball much better. Although he missed a short putt on No. 18 in regulation that could have avoided a playoff, Watson said he made a lot of key putts this week too. When the driver, the irons and the putter are all on, there's a winning formula.
Crucial putts in the final round dropped frequently on the back nine -- a 10-footer for birdie at No. 10 to get to 9 under; a 5-footer to save par at No. 13; and a 23-footer for birdie from the fringe on No. 15.
At No. 18 in regulation, Watson’s second shot sailed over the green leaving a difficult chip from the rough that he executed beautifully, but wasn't able to connect on the par putt. Looking back, that miscue helped him when it was time for the playoff.
"No. 18 gave me a little bit of understanding about how not to play the hole in the playoff," he said. "Don't go over. Being in the bunker was the right place to be. And my second shot in the playoff hole, frankly, I was just trying to hit the ball as high as I could and if it got lucky and hit the front edge of the green and stayed on, fine. But if it went in the bunker, it is just where I wanted to be. It ended up in the bunker in a perfect lie, an uphill, slightly uphill bunker shot, and hard sand, and I made a good bunker shot out there and didn't take very much time on the putt just one practice stroke and said, let's get this over with. And I made a pretty decent stroke and the ball went in and that was the tournament."
Eger found the left rough off the tee in the playoff, was forced to lay up and then just barely missed his birdie try from about 10 feet.
"I'm pleased," Eger said. "I went out there and played a good solid round of golf, I did make a bogey late in the round which kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but then I came back and birdied 17, I just failed to birdie 18 both times I played it. So that's it."
The win was the 14th of Watson’s Champion’s Tour career, his sixth senior major and 2nd Senior PGA Championship (2001). The 10 years between Senior PGA Championship victories ties Watson with Hutchison for longest span between victories in Championship history.
This latest victory was the first for Watson since he won the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai in 2010.
“I'm thinking to myself I'm saying, ‘how do I do this?’” Watson said about being able to win into his 60s. “And I guess that I just every day I say about my mom and dad, ‘thank you, mom and dad, for giving me the genes to be able to play injury free. And the talent that you put into me.’ My dad put a lot of passion into me as far as the game and work ethic. And my mom, she could give you that look. And I just, I look at this, it makes you want to go out and play more.”
In his days on the PGA Tour, Watson racked up an amazing 39 wins, including eight majors – five Open Championships, two Masters Tournaments and one U.S. Open. Despite his tireless efforts, the best Watson could muster in his attempt to complete the career grand slam with a PGA Championship win was a second-place showing in 1978.
While it wasn’t the same as winning the PGA Championship, Watson felt he at least picked up a morsel of vindication with his 2001 Senior PGA Championship triumph.
Now, he has two of those.
“I would have liked to have won the real PGA Championship, but this is a great substitute for it, sure,” he said.
Tom Watson summoned up some of his old major magic, holing a 3-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to beat David Eger in the Senior PGA Championship on Sunday.
The 61-year-old, down a shot with four holes left in regulation, became the oldest player to win a major since the seniors tour was created in 1980.
Watson closed with a 2-under 70 to finish at 10-under 278 and capture his 14th career major, six since turning 50 to go with five British Opens, two Masters and a U.S. Open.
More famous as a rules official than as a player, Eger closed with a 67.
Both Eger and Watson missed short birdie putts on the 72nd green that would have won it in regulation, Eger pulling a 6-footer and Watson pushing one from 4 feet.