HAVEN, Wis. – Tom Watson gave as Whistling Straits took away.
In the end, Brad Bryant was left with the biggest moment of his career – and the second-biggest final-round comeback in a U.S. Senior Open.
Bryant shot a 4-under-par 68 in stiff winds and searing 90-degree heat on Sunday to take advantage of yet another senior open collapse by Watson and win his first senior major.
“I’ve always been a journeyman, and to come out here and beat a couple of the best players in the world on a day like today is near-miraculous, actually,” said Bryant, who won only once in more than two decades on the PGA Tour before finding recent success on the Champions Tour. “I was pretty good.”
Bryant said he was fortunate that both Watson and Loren Roberts, who came into Sunday three shots behind Watson, played poorly on the same day.
“It was really scripted for Tom Watson,” Bryant said. “The winds, the heat, it was really his day.”
It certainly appeared that way early on as Watson, who had finished second in three of the previous five senior opens, shot 1 under on the front nine and began the back nine with a birdie to go to 9 under for the tournament.
But then came the collapse, as Watson frittered away six strokes in the space of five holes, a stretch that included two double-bogeys.
“I hit the ball in the rough too many times, and today I got my just reward,” Watson said.
But Bryant couldn’t pounce right away, missing a 10-foot par putt on the 12th hole for his first bogey of the day and bogeying again at No. 14.
But Watson just kept sliding – something Bryant said he was “blissfully unaware of” until he asked his caddie about the leaderboard on the 18th hole. Bryant finally broke through with a birdie on the par-5 16th hole to take the lead for good.
Bryant teared up afterward, saying he always wanted to do something big with his children around to witness it.
“I think this qualifies,” he said.
Watson shot a 6-over 78 to finish 1 under for the tournament, behind Bryant, Ben Crenshaw at 3 under and Roberts at 2 under.
“He played so good through the stretch to get to 9 under, and then the double bogey at 11 just absolutely killed him,” Roberts said of Watson. “Tom had some struggles. He hit a couple loose tee shots, and putted poorly.”
Watson’s misfortunes paid off for the 52-year-old Bryant. He finished third on the Champions Tour money list last year with two victories, and won again earlier this year at the Regions Charity Classic in Birmingham, Ala., in May.
Bryant took home $470,000 for the victory. His comeback on the final day of the senior open was second to Allen Doyle’s victory from nine shots back in the 2005 tournament.
Bryant also was the only player to shoot all four rounds at par or better.
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