Loren Roberts of America completed a wire-to-wire victory in The Senior British Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management, by beating Argentine Eduardo Romero at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off.
After an absorbing final day tussle over the Ailsa Course at The Westin Turnberry Resort, during which Romero came from five behind to tie Roberts on six under par 274, the Californian eventually shook off his pursuer with a par four on the pair’s return to the 18th.
Appropriately for a man nicknamed ‘Boss of the Moss’ for his ability on the greens, Roberts struck the decisive blow with a 13 foot putt while Romero three-putted from 40 feet after holding the upper hand.
“This is the ultimate achievement for me,” commented a delighted Roberts after collecting the Claret Jug and a winner’s cheque for £157,800 (€231,225).
“Obviously I was able to play The Ryder Cup and some President’s Cups, and to win on Tour, but I had a chance at the 1994 US Open and didn’t get it done. After I got in my mid 40s, it was left to the Seniors Tour to win a Major. And of all the Majors, I am happy to get this one. This gives me great fulfillment.”
Roberts had started the final round with a four shot lead and when Romero bogeyed the opening hole, the thoughts of some observers started turning to the record books and the biggest margin of victory in the event’s illustrious history.
However, Romero had other ideas and started a brilliant comeback with a birdie to Roberts’ bogey at the fifth. That two-stroke swing cut the American’s lead to three and it was now a match play contest.
The 52 year old from Cordoba holed for a birdie four at the seventh and continued to ride the wave of momentum around the lighthouse, birdieing the ninth to tie Roberts at the turn and then picking up a further shot at the tenth to move into the lead.
The redoubtable Roberts struck back immediately with a two at the 11th and the pair dropped shots at the next to stay locked at the top.
At this stage, Romero’s momentum had evaporated and when he really needed his putting to rescue him after some disappointing approaches, the club he has described as “the bad one”, failed.
Bogeys followed at the 13th and 14th – making it three in a row – but the damage was lessened by Roberts contriving to make a double bogey six out of nothing at the 14th.
The American now led by one.
The long par three 15th brought a pair of pars but it could not mask the fact that, with the wind howling and the pressure on, both men were struggling.
This was born out at the treacherous par four 16th, a hole that will reveal any flaw in a golfer’s game. One score of nine and another of eight had earlier been made at the hole and Romero found that a bogey five was enough to move him into a share of the lead.
Having found the middle of the fairway off the tee, Roberts pulled his hybrid approach way left and needed two more attempts to find the green. From there this great controller of putting speed left his effort short and could only make six.
Romero, who had now had four bogeys in five holes, found himself tied for the lead at six under. For the first time all day this brought another player into the frame, American Dick Mast.
Mast eagled the 17th to jump to five under, just one off the pace.
With Romero and Roberts both only managing par at the 17th, Mast, a journeyman professional from Orlando whose only wins to date have come on the Nationwide Tour in the US, found himself with a 25 putt on the 18th hole for the clubhouse lead.
Mast produced a fine effort that finished on the edge of the cup and he closed with a 67, the lowest round of the day, to finish in sole position of third place on five under par 275.
It was by some margin the biggest result in the 55 year old’s career. “I have always felt like I can play well over here. I have been playing for 30 years and I always stayed at home. This is my first trip over to Europe and this was a lot of fun,” he said.
The two main protagonists both made four at the 18th to finish the 72 holes locked on six under, forcing a return trip to the last tee. Romero had closed with a round of one over par 71, while Roberts had carded a 75.
Romero’s drive found the fairway at the first play-off hole before Roberts pushed his into the right rough. The American, winner of the first three events on this season’s US Champions Tour, went for broke with a five wood but could only move the ball to 77 yards short of the hole.
Romero played next and sent his four iron approach to the back of the green. The Argentine looked in charge of proceedings but Roberts is a master in and around the greens, a fact he underlined by getting up and down for a four.
Romero three putted for a five and was left ruing his earlier club selection. “The first putt was unlucky because there’s a big mountain to the left of the green. I think the mistake was a wrong club. I hit a four iron and should have hit five iron. It was probably one less club. I knew it was a difficult putt from the back but that’s golf. I’m still happy.”
Roberts felt for his opponent. “I am disappointed for Eduardo, because he looked like he had it after the tee shots. But I have leaned on my putter for 25 years and I figured as long as I could get a look at a par putt, I would have a chance. And that’s the way it worked out.”
A shot behind Mast in fourth spot, on two under par, was Craig Stadler (70) while fellow American Tim Simpson finished with a 74 to take fifth place on one under.
English former Ryder Cup player Gordon J Brand, runner-up to Greg Norman in the Australian’s Open success at Turnberry in 1986, carded a 69 to finish as the leading European in tenth place on four over.
Hale Irwin of the United States collected the £3,000 Fred Daly Award for the leading player aged 60 and over, thanks to his score of five over par 285, while Englishman Bob Larratt left Scotland with 171 bottles of Hardys wine for his hole-in-one at the fourth hole.