The 26th U.S. Senior Open will age well. The passage of time will make the details of the tournament fade like old newsprint, and eventually the event's lasting legacy will be this: Allen Doyle tied the record for the lowest round in the history of the senior majors to cap the biggest Sunday comeback ever seen in this event. ¬∂ The 57-year-old Doyle, the former hockey player with the abbreviated swing, and his eight-under 63 will shine like new money someday, destined to become the one sentence that describes the 2005 Open at the NCR Country Club outside Dayton. Doyle's round, which highlighted a 10-under 274, was the lowest of the week and four shots better than the next-best score on Sunday. ¬∂ "The 63 was amazing," said defending Senior Open champion Peter Jacobsen, who finished 26th, 12 shots back. ¬∂ "Allen starts nine back and probably has no thought of winning. He was probably thinking, Maybe I can finish top five. It's not as good as shooting 63 from the lead, but a 63 on a USGA championship course--it's like Johnny Miller's 63 at Oakmont [to win the 1973 U.S. Open]. It's fantastic." ¬∂ Until time works its healing magic, this Senior Open won't be much different from most U.S. Opens--it was lost as much as it was won. Part of the intrigue of the Champions tour is that our aging heroes are essentially damaged goods, and the fun is in watching them overcome their particular malady, be it a bad back, an aching hip, a makeshift swing, the yips or lost desire. They are all great players, but with the possible exception of ageless Hale Irwin, they're not as great as they once were. Which is why, after a series of ugly train wrecks on Sunday, Slapshot Doyle skated away with the title.
A handful of players left the classic, Dick Wilson--designed South course at NCR talking to themselves. "Instead of looking at it as if I'd thrown away the Open," said Loren Roberts, who took the lead on the 12th hole of the final round, then promptly lost it on the 13th after three inexplicably bad shots, "I'm going to tell myself, Gosh, as poorly as I drove it all weekend, I still had a chance to win."
Good psychology, but Roberts, playing in only his second senior event since turning 50 in late June, was right the first time. He threw away the Open, as did several others. The innocuous 11th hole was Roberts's undoing. He hit a perfect tee shot on the short (380 yards) par-4 and had 92 yards to a front pin. Trying to feather a soft wedge onto a green baked hard by four straight days of sun, Roberts dumped his ball into a bunker. "Probably the worst swing I've ever put on a wedge," he said. His first sand shot moved only a few feet. His quickly played second--Roberts did not even stop to brush the sand from his club--ran 30 feet across the green, and he made a double bogey, losing the lead for good. "Basically, the 11th was my whole tournament," said Roberts, who tied D.A. Weibring for second.
Craig Stadler threw away the Open too. He birdied four of the last five holes in the third round to tie Roberts for the lead, then opened a three-shot advantage through eight holes on Sunday. Stadler was forced to splash out from the face of a fairway bunker at the par-4 9th, then three-putted from 30 feet for a double bogey that triggered a full-scale meltdown. He staggered through the next eight holes in six over par. "Everything I did was wrong," said Stadler, who was the tour's player of the year in 2004 but has yet to win in '05. "It was a comedy of errors. I had no clue on the greens. It was stupid stuff."
September 7, 2005
The demises of Roberts and Stadler left Weibring in the lead, and he looked like the poster boy for USGA championships as he played smart, solid golf, plodding through the first 70 holes with only four bogeys. Because Doyle had teed off 70 minutes before the final pairing, Weibring came to the last two holes knowing he needed only two pars to win. Then he, too, threw away the Open. He hit what he thought was a perfect four-wood off the tee on the short (350 yards) par-4 17th, but his ball bounced straight left into a thick lie in the rough. More bad luck--his next shot, with a pitching wedge, bounced dead right into a tangled lie in the grass face of a front bunker. Weibring pitched to 10 feet and put a good stroke on his putt, but naturally, it curled away at the hole.
Now he needed a par at the 438-yard 18th to force a playoff. He pushed his tee shot into the right rough, hit over the green, played a dicey pitch 12 feet past the hole and missed the putt. Another bogey. "Any questions besides 17 and 18?" Weibring said afterward in a display of gallows humor. He added seriously, "It isn't a great feeling to finish bogey-bogey when you have a chance to win the Senior Open. I hit the ball where I was looking. It simply wasn't meant to be."
At least two other players left NCR with a sense of loss. Greg Norman played well tee-to-green but seemed baffled on the greens and finished fourth, two shots back. Tom Watson had the lead in the third round until he four-putted from 10 feet on the 6th hole and never recovered, finishing three back in a tie for fifth.
The memory of Doyle's flawless 63 (eight birdies, no bogeys) ultimately will outlast those failures. The Open victory, his second major (1999 Senior PGA) and 10th on the Champions tour, put an exclamation point on a career that has been underappreciated. "He's a sneaky great player," Jacobsen said. "The way he putts and chips and shapes his ball--he's a real shot maker. He's not the longest hitter or the prettiest, but he's a great player, simple as that."
The victory also means that under the terms of a pact he made with his buddy Dana Quigley, Doyle has to buy dinner for the tour's iron man. "And it won't be at the Outback Steakhouse," Quigley says. "There's going to be wine and a lot of cigars. This might be a big one."
For Doyle, the Senior Open was the biggest one of all.