Dave Stockton, spotted an eight-stroke head start, parred the first 17 holes to hold off Hale Irwin’s remarkable charge and win the U.S. Senior Open by two strokes Sunday.
“I welcome the challenge. If I didn’t welcome the challenge, I wouldn’t have been looking at the leaderboard,” Stockton said after his steady 1-over-par 73. “I don’t put myself in a vacuum. I’m not the type of person who says, ‘I’m going to ignore everybody for 4 hours.’
“It was kind of fun to be challenged.”
Stockton, a winner of two PGA Championships, began the day with a seven-stroke lead over Bob Charles and was ahead of four other players, including Irwin, by eight shots.
After Saturday’s round, Irwin was the only contender who expressed any hope of catching Stockton. And he nearly pulled it off.
“There was not a choice of what had to happen,” Irwin said after shooting a 67 at Canterbury Golf Club. “The only way somebody else was going to win was for someone to go out and do what I was doing. Even then, he had to make mistakes. I did what I had to do, he did what he had to do. But eight strokes is a lot to make up.”
After parring the first five holes, he still trailed by eight shots. But a string of four birdies to finish the front side was followed by birdies at 12, 13 and 16.
All of a sudden, the largest lead in a Senior Open was down to one shot.
“I was pushing the envelope,” Irwin said.
All the while, Stockton had played seamless, if unspectacular, golf, hitting fairways, avoiding trouble, and - as he had all week - dropping every putt he needed. He salvaged par at both 16 and 17 from the deep rough surrounding the green.
“I don’t shy away from a challenge,” he said. “I guess that’s why I play pretty good from in front.”
It was Irwin who finally blinked. He hit a 2-iron to the 218-yard, par-3 17th into the heavy rough right of the green.
“That was one of the less dignified irons I hit all day or week,” Irwin said. “It hurt.”
His wedge caught in the thick USGA-length rough and the ball came up 20 feet short. His par putt missed the mark by three feet, the lead doubling to two strokes.
Meanwhile, Stockton was as dependable as the sun had been all week.
“I went to 17 and saw Hale had hit it right and made bogey,” Stockton said. “I hit it about the same place, maybe a little further up. But I hit a good chip shot about six feet by and hit the par putt. I was so excited I finally had made a putt.”
At the 18th, Irwin found trouble off the tee and came up short of the green with his second shot. He almost chipped in from 50 feet in front of the green, but then missed his 3-foot par putt to fall another shot behind.
“It was a nice walk,” Stockton said of strolling up the 18th with his wife, Catherine, by his side.
His 73 followed rounds of 70, 67 and 67 and left him at 11-under 277. He collected a first-place check of $212,500 from a purse of $1.2 million.
Irwin’s finished at 9-under 279, one stroke better than Raymond Floyd. Floyd surged with two birdies on the last three holes for a 68.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Leaderboard Final scores of the U.S. Senior Open: Dave Stockton 70-67-67-73-277 Hale Irwin 72-71-69-67-279 Ray Floyd 70-73-69-68-280
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