American Tom Watson collected his second Senior British Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management, after beating Ireland’s Des Smyth in a sudden-death play-off at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, Scotland.
Smyth’s hopes of a first Major of his career sunk in the sand at the third extra hole when his eight iron tee shot found one of the pot bunkers to the right of the 17th green.
The 52 year old from Drogheda pitched out to 20 feet and could only make bogey, while Watson got down in two from just off the back of the putting surface to regain the trophy he won at Turnberry in 2003.
Both players had finished the regulation 72 holes locked at four under par 280. Two return trips to the 18th failed to split the pair but when Smyth found the bunker at the par three 17th, 55 year old Watson secured a 12th Major Championship and his fourth in the Senior ranks.
“Today it was somewhat of a struggle,” admitted the American. “The rhythm wasn’t quite there like yesterday. It looked like we were going to play 18 about nine or ten times, but we ended up on 17. Des made an error there and fortunately I have got the cup in my hands.”
Watson was also presented with a winner’s cheque for £157,800, while Smyth collected £105,250 for second place and Australian Greg Norman, who had finished just a shot back on three under, earned £59,250.
Watson – who won four of his five Open titles in Scotland – had started the day with a one stroke lead from Craig Stadler and three clear of Norman and Smyth, but he was caught when Norman notched his fourth birdie of an inconsistent round at the par five sixth, after leaving his eagle putt on the edge of the hole.
But Watson hit back almost immediately, sending a lovely pitch and run into the 499 yard sixth and holing a two-footer to move to three under.
Two holes later and Smyth moved into a share of the lead after a long swinging putt for a birdie at the short eighth.
The Irishman – twice a winner on the US Champions Tour this year - was a model of consistency, reaching the turn in a bogey-free 33 while Watson took 36 shots thanks to a double bogey six.
They remained locked together coming home, swapping birdies and both dropping a shot to par at the 13th.
Up ahead, Norman notched a brilliant birdie at the last to finish on three under and put the pressure on the two leaders.
But both made par and returned to the 18th for a play-off. Two more pars were recorded and a third trip up the 18th brought another two fours.
Watson then found the back of the green at the 17th before Smyth pushed his tee shot into the sand. From that moment there was only one winner.
After collecting the Claret Jug from Martin Gilbert, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, Watson paid tribute to the Balgownie Links and the host city of Aberdeen.
“It’s a special place here. We had an opportunity to see the city on Monday and the people really came out in force here. We had great crowds. Look at my buddies right here, right behind me. You’ve never seen better smiles on kids in your life than right here in Aberdeen. It’s been a pleasure to be here and be their champion.”
For Smyth, it was the second time he had run Watson close in a Major only to miss out. The former European Ryder Cup player finished tied fourth at The 1982 Open Championship at Royal Troon, two strokes behind Watson.
Leading final scores from The Senior British Open Championship at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, par 71
T Watson beat D Smyth in a sudden-death play-off
280 T Watson (USA) 75-71-64-70; D Smyth (Ire) 73-72-68-67
281 G Norman (Aus) 76-67-70-68
283 C Stadler (USA) 73-68-70-72
284 L Roberts (USA) 72- 74-71-67
287 D Cooper (Eng) 73-80-64-70; D Eger (USA) 80-70-72-65
288 M McNulty (Ire) 76-72-72-68
290 R Stewart (Can) 73-77-75-65; M Gray (Scot) 77-73-71-69; E Romero (Arg) 75-71-75-69
291 J Bland (SA) 76-78-65-72; M James (Eng) 74-75-70-72; N Ratcliffe (Aus) 80-74-69-68