The Senior PGA Championship
|Tournament Info for: 2007 Senior PGA Championship|
|Date:||May 24 - 27, 2007|
|Site:||Kiawah Island Resort - Ocean Course|
|Par:||36 - 36 - 72 (8,201 yards)
36 - 36 - 72 (7,201 yards)
36 - 36 - 72 (7,201 yards)
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Since it opened its gates in 1991, The Ocean Course has been an 18-hole gauntlet that tests a golfer’s heart and soul.
How fitting that Denis Watson, someone who has traveled to the heart of darkness in his professional golf career, would find redemption after 23 years on this strip of land and sand along the Atlantic.
The 51-year-old native of Zimbabwe stood tall on May 27, and delivered when Eduardo Romero made late mistakes, and went on to capture the 68th Senior PGA Championship for his first victory since 1984.
"This validates my golfing career,” said Watson. “It’s gratifying to know that I’ve still got it after all these years.”
Making his first appearance in the oldest and most prestigious event in senior golf, Watson posted a final-round 4-under-par 68 to finish at 9-under 279.
"It’s been a long struggle," Watson said as he fought back tears in just his 30th tournament in 14 years. "There’s nothing like winning. It’s so good to have this happen."
Watson, who pocketed $360,000, defeated Argentina’s Romero by two strokes while his childhood friend Nick Price of South Africa finished three strokes back. Watson became the first international-born Senior PGA Champion since 1990, when South Africa’s Gary Player won the last of his three titles.
Watson’s triumph led a global parade on the leaderboard, with internationally-born players grabbing the top four spots.
Watson finished at 9-under-par 279, followed by Romero, the leader for 67 holes, who closed with a 72 and 281. Price, also from Zimbabwe and making his first appearance, was third after a 71 and Japan’s Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki finished with a 72 to garner fourth.
The top four were among a group of 36 international players representing 14 countries. American Tim Simpson finished fifth at 286 after a 70, and Brad Bryant, last year’s runner-up, was sixth at 287 to round out a group of only six players who finished under-par on Pete Dye’s challenge seaside course, built for the 1991 Ryder Cup and hosting its first major championship. The Ocean Course next hosts the 2012 PGA Championship.
“My wife told me, ‘You’re going to win this week; it’s your destiny,’ ” said Watson, as he was being toasted by The PGA of America in the clubhouse. “I said, ‘God, I’d like to have this. You know, I think he’s taken good care of me today.”
Watson was as a rising star in the 1980s when he won three events in 1984: the Buick Open, the NEC World Series of Golf and the Las Vegas Invitational. The next year, he tied for second at the U.S. Open. Later in 1985, though, Watson’s star crashed to Earth when he struck a hidden stump while taking a swing during a tournament in South Africa.
He continued playing, but would eventually discover he had damaged his neck, wrist, back and shoulders and incurred nerve damage.
"I never played a decent round of golf (after that)," he said.
Watson’s had eight or nine surgeries, been in a back brace for weeks and spent years in rehab.
No less an expert than teacher David Leadbetter told Watson his swing was dead.
"Someone told me that I’d played 30 times in 14 years," Watson said. "That’s not a lot of golf."
Things began to turn this season, his first full year on the Champions Tour.
Watson tied for second at the Turtle Bay Championship, then added three more top 10s heading into The Ocean Course, where he had to face Romero.
Romero, nicknamed "El Gato" (“The Cat”) had handled The Ocean Course’s treacheroussand dunes and Atlantic gusts the best of anyone the first three rounds. Despite a few stumbles, Romero held a two-stroke lead after birdies on the 11th and 12th holes pushed him to 10-under.
But, The Ocean Course’s back nine – where golfers are more exposed to the wind coming home from the 14th hole – began to grab back.
Romero bogeyed the the 13th hole, and saw his round fall apart with a double bogey on the par-3 14th, where his tee shot buried in the side of a left bunker.
"I knew from the tee that it would (be plugged)," Romero said. "I thought four would be good. But I made double."
Watson, meanwhile, knocked his tee shot to within 12 feet, and could be heard on camera urging it on, “Be right. Be right. Be right. Be right. Yes!" Watson took command by making the birdie putt to move to 9-under-par and take a two-shot lead.
Watson thought, "If I can make this putt for a two, this is mine."
Watson gave back a stroke with a bogey on the 15th, but responded with a birdie on the 16th after a memorable 20-yard putt from off the green, up a ridge and coming to rest within three feet of the hole.
Watson parred the devilish par-3 17th, which was the No. 1 most difficult hole of the Championship, and then stepped to the 18th tee. His drive drifted right, just clearing a steep bunker and coming to rest softly in a patch of grass. He hit his approach over the green, got a free drop from the bleachers, chipped and chased his six-foot par putt into the hole with a fist pump.
"I had two great breaks in the round,” said Watson. “After the last one on 18, I looked up to the sky and said, ‘Thank you!’ ”
In front of millions watching on television, Watson found his opening to overtake Romero on Sunday. But, it was his personal mental recovery after the second round that most likely propelled him to challenge for a Championship.
He began the second round on the back nine and double bogeyed both the 17th and 18th holes. As he was being shuttled to the front nine, his wife, Susan, was attempting to cheer him up. He told her he needed to be quiet and compose himself. As they were riding, Watson looked over and saw a vision-impaired spectator.
"I don’t know what the heck he was doing at the golf course," Watson said. "But that got to me. I thought to myself, ‘You have no right to be unhappy with yourself. You get to play golf and that guy will never play golf.’ ”
Watson said he took it as a sign from God.
"Whatever happens is in your control, you just do it," he said. "And have a pretty good attitude. Because you’re pretty lucky. And I feel lucky. I’ve had a lot of great things happen to me.
"Of all those adverse things, you just have to say, ’Well, that was supposed to happen to get me to where I am.
"And I’m here today. I’m the (Senior) PGA Champion. I can barely believe it."
While Watson was the headliner in the final round, PGA Professionals also made their marks. PGA Life Member Mike San Filippo of Hobe Sound, Fla., had a front-nine 32 that included birdies on both par 3s, No. 5 and No. 8.
Then, Ron Stelten of Palm Desert, Calif., used a 2-iron to record the only hole-in-one of the Championship on the 196-yard 14th hole.
The remainder of the afternoon belonged to Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash., a PGA teaching professional at Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine. He finished tied for 19th after a 70 for a 292 total and capture Low PGA Professional honors. The best finisher among nine PGA Professionals who made the cut, Coston was presented a crystal bowl by PGA President Brian Whitcomb on the 18th green moments before Watson hoisted the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy.
|Low Rounds||Round Leader||Denis Watson|
|Round 1:||77.13||8||13||131||68 Eduardo Romero||68 Eduardo Romero||71|
|Round 2:||75.47||22||12||118||69 Mike San Filippo||138 Eduardo Romero||142|
|Round 3:||73.58||20||7||52||67 Tom Kite||209 Eduardo Romero||211|
|Round 4:||73.84||20||8||51||68 Denis Watson, Denis Watson||279 Denis Watson, Denis Watson||279|