Stockton holds on in Senior Open Irwin makes up 6 shots but finishes 2 back

July 08, 1996|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,SUN STAFF

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Dave Stockton, more accustomed to having to come from behind during final rounds, proved he could play from the front when he survived a valiant charge by Hale Irwin to win the 17th U.S. Senior Open championship yesterday at Canterbury Golf Club.

Stockton began the day with a seven-shot lead on Bob Charles and an eight-shot lead on four others, including Irwin. While Stockton was in the process of running off what would become 17 straight pars, Irwin was making the only serious run at the leader with a barrage of seven birdies.

It was Irwin, backed by three U.S. Opens and accustomed to USGA conditions, who faltered at the finish, however. Playing in the next-to-last group and knowing he needed a birdie, he missed the green at 17, made bogey and then finished with another missed-green bogey.

When Stockton, with victory assured, bogeyed the last hole, it gave him a round of 73, and a 72-hole total of 277. Irwin finished 67279, and playing companion Raymond Floyd, 68280.

Stockton said: "I just can't tell you how relaxed I was out there. It was probably the finest round of golf -- flawless tee to green -- as I have ever played in the final round of a major championship with anything at stake."

Stockton then singled out his second chip shot at No. 16 as the one that won the tournament. The hole is 608 up-and-down yards, calling for a second shot to an elevated plateau and a 130-yard shot to a small green sloped back to front.

"I tried to lay up on top of the hill with a 4-wood, and it goes all the way to the bottom. Then I hear a roar, so I know Irwin is only one behind.

"I promptly chunk my chip shot short of the green -- the first one of the day I missed -- but, faced with a hard chip, I hit a bump-and-run, get it to two feet and make it for par. It was one of those where you get more momentum out of making a par like that than after 14 holes of two-putts.

"At [par-3] 17, I saw Hale hit it right and make bogey. I hit a good shot, but pushed it, and ended up a little bit past where he had been in the rough. I hit a really good chip shot, the ball lipped out, went by six feet, and I made it.

"I was so excited, because I finally made a putt where I couldn't see the bottom of the hole when I started. It was a tough one, about three inches of break, and I drilled it right in the middle."

Irwin's 2-iron shot at No. 17 ended in a difficult spot in the right rough, and there was too much grass there to know how the ball would come out. It rolled 25 feet past, and his first putt was close, but not close enough.

At 18, Irwin tried to slip his drive up the right side for a better angle to the pin, knowing he had to birdie the hole to have any chance. He thought he had a "flyer" lie in the rough, but his shot came up short. A 50-foot pitch shot left him a seven-foot putt for par that did not drop.

The challenger started his run at No. 6, made four straight birdies, then added ones at the 12th, 13th and 16th.

"I said someone had to go out early and put the pressure on Dave, but he kept throwing the pressure back, making no mistakes," Irwin said. "I just kept running out of room, really."

Stockton, winless the last 13 months, claimed his 12th Senior tour victory, and a USGA check for $212,500 from the $1.2 million purse. In addition to his two PGA titles (one at Congressional Country Club), he has won two Senior majors and the Senior Players in 1992 and 1994.

"It was a relaxing day for me, because as good as my long game was, it allowed me to just play each hole the way Canterbury is supposed to be played. There weren't any adventures, which was new for me."

Larry Ringer, Country Club at Woodmore head professional, who made the cut for a second straight year, never got anything going, and two back-nine double bogeys contributed to a 79299, and a check for $3,180. He has withdrawn from the Maryland Open, beginning today at Old South Country Club, and will play in the recently revived Senior Series this week in Greenville, N.C.

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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