No need to sweat

Roberts beats heat for easy Senior Players win

Senior Players Championship

October 08, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

The only heat on Loren Roberts yesterday at Baltimore Country Club came from above.

Roberts, who had either shared or held the lead from the end of the first round in the inaugural Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship, really never was challenged on a steamy afternoon that seemed more like the middle of summer than the beginning of autumn.

The weather, with the temperature hovering around 90 degrees in Timonium, was not as hot as Roberts, who turned a three-stroke lead going into the final round into a seven-shot runaway by the time he made the turn and an eventual six-stroke victory over Hall of Famer Tom Watson.

Roberts finished at 13-under-par 267 after a final round of 3-under 67 left him one shot off the renovated East Course record he and five others had set earlier in the tournament. Former University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk and Scott Simpson tied for third, seven shots behind.

The victory was the seventh in a little more than two years on the Champions Tour for Roberts, who won eight PGA Tour events and none before he turned 39. It also helped make up for last year, when he held a five-stroke lead in the final round of the same tournament in Dearborn, Mich., and shot 74, tying for third.

"For me personally, I really exorcised some demons today," said Roberts, 52, who earned $390,000 for his win and moved into first place in the Charles Schwab Cup standings for player of the year. "To get the job done, that goes a long way for me to get over a little bit of a hurdle that I had from last year.

"So this one might be the sweetest for me."

Unlike the finish of the last senior major championship in Baltimore - the 2002 U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley that saw Don Pooley beat Watson in a five-hole playoff - there was no drama yesterday after Roberts made a par and four straight birdies to start his round.

It was not just his famed putting that pushed Roberts to an easy victory, but his iron play, as well. Three of the birdies in the stretch of four straight were on putts from within six feet. He saved his best shot for the ninth hole, a 3-iron from a little less than 200 yards away that stopped five feet from the cup.

Not that he played conservatively after shooting 30 on the front nine and forging a big lead.

"I have caught myself doing that before, and I realize that probably doesn't work most of the time," Roberts said. "I just kept trying to make birdies, kept trying to put the ball in the fairway, kept trying to put the ball on the greens. Didn't turn out that way. I didn't really put the ball in any danger."

Coming to the 18th tee with a seven-stroke lead, Roberts had only one thought.

"The only thing I wanted to be sure that didn't happen was the ball didn't go over the fence left," Roberts, who won his third senior major championship in as many years, said with a smile. "Obviously when you think that way, you go in the right rough."

For Roberts, one of the most satisfying elements of the victory was that he played three of the four days with Watson. Roberts said earlier in the week that he liked the way Watson plays so decisively, and it helped him not hesitate when it came to his club selection and reading the tricky greens.

"I think that's one of the reasons that I played very well," Roberts said. "I love to watch him play. He hits it so solid. I know sometimes he doesn't put the scores up that he should. He hits the ball so solid; that has an influence on me. It's an exciting thing for me to play with someone like him or Raymond [Floyd] or Jack [Nicklaus] when he was still playing the regular tour."

Watson was impressed by Roberts' performance.

"It was just solid shot after solid shot," said Watson, who finished with a 2-under 68. "And of course his putting is right on, too. Sometimes you know when a guy has hit some clunky shots. He wipes and he has that nervous twitch. You know you may get him that round. Loren was not in that mode today."

When Roberts made the birdie at the ninth hole, Watson knew it was over.

"It was pretty apparent when he locked the door at No. 9," said Watson, whose chance at a comeback ended when he missed birdie putts of 10 and 6 feet on the first two holes, then had a 50-footer on the par-4 third hole curl around the edge of the cup. "I said, `Well, that's about it.' He's not going to screw up much, and he didn't."

Said Funk: "Loren played flawless. He did exactly what you would dream to do, holding a three-shot lead and shooting 5-under at the turn. That's good." Though fans of Watson and Funk were more boisterous in their cheers than those pulling for Roberts, he was given a warm welcome as he walked up the 18th fairway. He seemed slightly embarrassed when he missed a 10-footer for par on the final hole.

After Roberts received the crystal trophy for winning the first major championship at Five Farms since the 1988 U.S Women's Open, Constellation Energy chief executive officer Mayo Shattuck III said to Roberts: "You lived up to your reputation. You were the only one who conquered the greens."

Later on, Roberts recalled when he heard the tournament was moving to the A.W. Tillinghast-designed course renowned for its greens.

"I love these greens because it's all about feel and it's all about pace and imagination, and that's the way I putt," said Roberts, who didn't have a three-putt. "When I saw this golf course, I said this is going to be a great golf course for me."

And a great place to chase away some demons.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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