Noboru Sugai became the first Japanese golfer to win the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, when he closed with a battling 74 in wet and windy conditions to win this year's championship over the rugged Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland.
It was a victory that netted Sugai a cheque for £79,000 and gave him automatic entry into next year's Open Championship at Royal St George's as well as the2003 US Seniors Open at Bellerive C.C., St Louis.
He also became the first wire-to-wire winner at this championship since Gary Player at Turnberry in 1988.
Sugai, a 52 year old from Tokyo, who has a Japanese father and a Russian mother, started the week as a 100-1 outsider. However, long before the end, the Japanese golfer had impressed the large and knowlegeable crowds with his accurate ball striking and his ability to cope with the mounting pressure.
On Saturday, paired with Tom Watson, Sugai overcame winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour to outscore the five-time Open champion by three shots. In the final round, he started six shots ahead of Canada's John Irwin and then hung on, despite registering a bogey on the 145 yard seventh and a double bogey on the 425 yard eighth.
In the end, Sugai came home in one over par 36 to record a three under par aggregate of 281. That gave him a two shot advantage over the fast finishing Canadian, Irwin, who came home in 34, but bogeyed the final hole to lose his last chance.
Irwin, a European Seniors Tour regular, carded a one under par 70 to finish on one under par 283, three shots ahead of Ireland's Christy O'Connor Jnr and four in front of Scotland's John Chillas.
To cap a great week for the Japanese, Seiji Ebihara and Katzunari Takahashi shared fifth place with New Zealand's Barry Vivian on five over par 289.
"This feels unbelievable," an emotional Sugai said at the end.
"This tournament is a major, so to win it is incredible. I felt very nervous all day but I managed to keep going. I fight, fight, fight and it worked."
In contrast to Sugai, Watson, the 2-1 pre-championship favourite, dropped from a share of fourth place into a tie for 14th after a disastrous 79 that included an outward half of nine over par 44.
The American's problems started when he took two to get out of a bunker on his way to recording a triple bogey seven on the 371 yard second hole. Then, he posted further bogeys at the fourth, seventh and eighth before struggling to a double bogey six on the 425 yard ninth.
Under the circumstances, the bedraggled Watson, making his first appearance in this championship, did well to come home in a one under par 35 that included two birdies over his last three holes.
The £3,000 Hardys Wines Super Seniors prize, awarded to the leading competitor aged 60 or over, was won by former Open and Senior British Open champion, Bob Charles.
The New Zealand left-hander closed with a birdie four on the 528 yard par five 18th for 72 and a four round aggregate of 294, good enough to edge out his playing partner, Neil Coles by a single shot.
Ireland's Arthur Pierse was confirmed as the recipient of the Silver Medal, awarded to the leading amateur, for the second year in succession.
Earlier in the week, Pierse, the former Walker Cup man from Tipperary, became the only amateur to survive the cut when he posted scores of 80 and 69. Over the weekend, he added two further rounds of 78 to finish in 51st place on 21 over par 305.
2001 champion, Ian Stanley, ended his defence with a three over par 74. That left the Australian in a share of 31st place on 299.