A truly great links shot helped American Mark Wiebe claim a dramatic victory in The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex following the resumption of his play-off with Germany’s Bernhard Langer on Monday morning.
The pair had to return to Royal Birkdale to battle it out at 8am after darkness suspended play at 9.41pm on Sunday following the completion of two extra holes, and it was Wiebe who eventually struck the decisive blow after they played the 18th hole three more times.
After finding the rough with his tee shot, Wiebe produced a marvellous low draw that bounded just onto the putting surface, as Langer came up short of the left hand greenside bunker. Langer’s chip from a bare lie ran 15ft past the hole, giving Wiebe a 30ft birdie putt for victory, which he left just inches from the hole.
Wiebe tapped in for par, meaning that Langer had to match that to extend the play-off, but the two-time Masters Champion, who had led by two strokes playing the last hole in regulation play on Sunday before closing with a double bogey, once again suffered heartache as his putt agonisingly failed to drop.
As a result, Wiebe prevailed in the longest play-off in the history of The Senior Open Championship, becoming the eighth American winner of the prestigious trophy.
“I'm speechless,” said Wiebe, a two-time winner on the US PGA Tour. “Shocked, too. I just planned on Bernie making that putt on the fifth extra hole and I actually was wondering already what hole we were going to go to now. Do we go back to 18 or do I start on a new hole?
“I think it's always better for both players had there been a birdie to win the playoff instead of a bogey, but right now, I don't really care. I'm glad it's over, and I'm honoured.
“I just was luckier today and last night than Bernie I guess. I also feel like Bernie has won, what, a couple hundred tournaments. He's won so many, I feel like this was my turn.”
Wiebe’s remarkable victory meant disappointment for Langer for a second consecutive year, after the 55 year old had also led by one stroke going into the final round at Turnberry 12 months ago before closing with a 75 to finish tied sixth, coincidentally with Wiebe, behind winner Fred Couples.
Langer will undoubtedly look back on the closing hole on Sunday night as a missed opportunity to seal a second Senior Open title, following his triumph at Carnoustie in 2010.
The 2004 European Ryder Cup Captain needed only a bogey to win, but took four shots to get down from the right-hand greenside trap, uncharacteristically leaving his first attempt in the bunker.
That meant he tied with Wiebe on nine under par 271, after the American had earlier signed for a superb 66, and the pair took two more trips down Royal Birkdale’s 18th in fading light before play was finally suspended at 9.41pm.
The result was a Monday finish for the first time in The Senior Open’s 27 year history, and Langer immediately had a chance of securing victory at the third additional hole but saw his 12-foot birdie putt stay out.
The fourth hole was then halved with bogeys, before Wiebe claimed the senior Claret Jug, the €240,000 first prize, and a place in next year’s Open Championship at nearby Royal Liverpool, with a fine par at the next.
It was a dramatic finish to a fine week which saw record crowds flock to Birkdale, as 45,575 people passed through the gates to surpass the previous Senior Open attendance record – set at Royal Troon in 2008 – by more than 4,000.
Wiebe had been without a top ten finish all year on the US Champions Tour, having struggled with a back and arm injury, but he put those ailments to one side to win on his sixth Senior Open appearance.
“Once I realised I could play and it didn't hurt very much to swing, I was instantly in a great mood, and I knew I was playing good,” said Wiebe.
“I had been playing with my son who kicks my rear end a lot, and he even said, ‘Dad, you're playing great.’ I said, ‘well, it's something that I can do when I'm not having this pain and I think that helped me so much with my attitude, just being able to swing a golf club.
“I love playing over here. I just love it. It's the greatest.”
Langer, who has never finished outside the top 12 in The Senior Open, was both philosophical and gracious in defeat.
“It was really my tournament to win or lose coming down 18 on Sunday, and I made a major error by taking on the green,” said Langer.
“It almost felt like Jean Van de Velde, if not quite. But that was certainly a bad error and shouldn't have happened as experienced as I am. But under the battle and are under the long delay, we had two rain delays, as you know, the mind and the brain doesn't always work 100 per cent right.
“Mark is a very deserving champion. He played a great week of golf, and we know he's a great putter and he's hit some really good shots this week.”
On Sunday, South African David Frost closed out with a level par 70 to finish in a tie for third alongside Australian Peter Senior (66) and 2010 US Ryder Cup Captain Corey Pavin, who equalled the low-round of the week with a five under par 65 to continue his incredible Senior Open record having finished second in 2010, tied third in 2011 and tied third last year.
Australian Peter Fowler, the 2011 Senior Tour Order of Merit winner, was a further two shots back on four under par while Scotland’s Sandy Lyle was the highest home finisher at seventh following a level par 70.