It was a sentimental stroll around Hayfields Country Club yesterday, as Bob Gilder will be sad to see the Constellation Energy Classic leave that venue and Arnold Palmer hinted that it might have been his last golf tournament.
When the Champions Tour marks a decade in the Baltimore area in October 2007, the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship will be a major and move to Baltimore Country Club.
Gilder will be going for a three-peat of sorts after he won his second straight CEC yesterday. A wire-to-wire leader a year ago, Gilder began the third and final round three strokes off the pace, but shot a 7-under-par 65 to record his first victory since he won here last year.
"That's the first time I've ever defended a title, and it feels nice," Gilder said. "That was totally unexpected."
Gilder's 14-under total left him two strokes clear of Brad Bryant, Jay Haas and second-round leader Don Pooley.
Palmer, 77, had an 86 that left him 43-over. The companies he endorses include Constellation Energy and Administaff, which is advertising his participation at its tournament outside Houston next month, but yesterday Palmer sounded unenthusiastic about playing again.
"It was great to play, but not good when you don't play very well," Palmer told a tournament official. "That's the thing for me. This may be my last shot at it, and I may give it up altogether. ... The big thing is, everything must come to an end."
Gilder's only win since 2003 had come here last year. The Oregonian will be melancholy about leaving Hayfields, where he was 14th in 2001, 11th in 2002 and 12th in 2004. Why didn't he play the 2003 CEC?
"I have no idea," Gilder said, unable to recall the reason. "I'm a Senior."
Besides a dry wit, the 55-year-old Gilder's assets include a claw grip on a belly putter and a right-to-left action that he said "sets up well" at Hayfields.
Gilder opened the 2005 CEC with a 64, found himself sharing the lead after a double bogey on the third hole in the final round, but coasted on the back nine and posted a tournament-record 18-under total.
This time, his only bogey came on No. 18 of his rain-delayed first round, which he had to complete Saturday morning. Yesterday, Gilder had seven birdies and no bogeys. He started three strokes behind Pooley, but found a groove that was evident to playing partners Tom Watson and Gil Morgan.
"Bob was hitting the ball very close to the hole," said Watson, whose 67 got him to 11-under and a share of fifth with Chip Beck. "When he gets in that zone, he's going to be hard to beat."
The entire tournament was played under lift, clean and place. Sunny skies and a breeze couldn't entirely dry Hayfields after a rainy week.
A stroke separated nine players when Gilder endured a long wait on the eighth tee. Tom Jenkins was the first to 11-under, but on No. 6 he recorded his first bogey in 57 holes. That left a six-pack at 10-under, where Gilder, Bryant and Jenkins were joined by Tom Purtzer, Bruce Summerhays and Massy Kuramoto.
Gilder took sole possession of the lead for the first time - and for good - with a birdie on 10, then became the first to get to 12-under with another on 12, despite a drive into the right rough. Gilder then birdied 15 and 16, oblivious to the pressure being applied, primarily by Bryant.
"How far behind are we?" Gilder asked his caddie before a birdie putt on 17, which would have given him a three-stroke lead.
"You could use another birdie," Harry Brown replied.
"When I saw the scoreboard on 18, I didn't want to do anything stupid," Gilder said. "We were focused on our own game. Honestly, I never looked at a leader board until then. I wondered a bit how close I was getting, but man, if I had been looking at a leader board, it probably would have been a different story."
He'll no longer be able to attack a Hayfields course that he has obviously solved, but when Gilder returns for the 2007 Constellation Energy Senior Players, he'll revisit other favorite haunts, like getting his barbecue "fix" at Andy Nelson's on York Road.
"For Bob to win here two years in a row, he's got the secret," Bryant said. "Now that we're leaving, he's going to be in mourning. It's like the Bob Gilder Annuity Fund."
Notes -- Five days after he turned 50, Beck earned $74,800, his best payday in more than a decade. Pooley, who had a 64 Saturday, didn't get a birdie until No. 9. ... Haas birdied 17 and 18 to grab a share of second. He's now just $53,712 behind Loren Roberts on the 2006 money list.