In the process, Thelen ensured that he will finish in the top four of the 2012 Senior Tour Order of Merit and has therefore earned a place in next year’s US Senior Open Championship.In trying conditions at Miramar Golf & Country Club, Thelen flourished as his closest challenger and overnight leader going into the final round, Jong Duck Kim, struggling to a nine over par 81.
The man from Texas, who has become the first American to claim three Senior Tour titles in one season since John Grace in 2000, started steadily with pars at the first six holes and by the time he reached the seventh tee, Thelen had made up the three shot overnight deficit as Kim bogeyed the third, fifth and sixth.Thelen seized the opportunity and vanquished his contender to the throne in clinical fashion as he recorded back to back birdies at the seventh and eighth while Kim dropped a further three shots with a bogey followed by a double bogey.
Suddenly, the 51 year old was five shots clear and not even his first bogey of the tournament at the ninth hole, after finding water, could halt him in his path as he sank a superb 18 foot putt at the 13th to card another birdie and put one hand firmly on the trophy.Thereafter, Thelen was never going to be caught but he finished in style nonetheless, splitting the fairway with his drive down the par five 18th before firing a two iron to 18 feet and two-putting for a birdie which earned him a winning score of 14 under par – the exact score he had targeted at the beginning of the week.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Thelen. “Words cannot describe how incredible this is for me. I had been a playing pro for 23 years and I was just delighted to get on the Senior Tour last year but to win three times this year is just unfathomable.“The fact that I am out here playing with some of the best Senior players in the world is so great but to be competing and winning is just way beyond my wildest dreams.
“I played really well all three days out here and the wind blew hard today and when it rained, it rained really heavily but I hung in there and thankfully I came out with the win.”Frankie Minoza of the Philippines and South African Chris Williams both had opportunities at the last hole to narrow the winning margin to four but both missed close putts for birdie and settled for a share of second place on nine under par.
Former Senior Tour Order of Merit winner Boonchu Ruangkit finished in fourth place on eight under par while the best of the Taiwanese was Chi Hsiang Lin, who carded a final round 75 to finish in tenth place on four under par.Thelen’s rise to prominence has been one of the great stories of the 2012 Senior Tour season and provides a beacon of hope for any players attempting to gain entry to the tour via the Qualifying School system.
A former college mate of Colin Montgomerie at Houston Baptist University, Thelen won Qualifying School by five shots in 2010 to gain an exemption for the 2011 campaign and he retained that card thanks to a 24th place finish in the Order of Merit that year.
But this year his career has been launched to a whole new stratosphere, as the two-time National PGA Club Professional Championship winner claimed his maiden Senior Tour title at the Berenberg Bank Masters before following that up immediately with a second win at the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open the following week.His latest victory caps an incredible year for Thelen and he will be hoping to build on that at the season-ending MCB Tour Championship in Mauritius in December.