The Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters - Round Three (Getty Images)
American Mike Cunning fired a final round 70 to seal a superb maiden victory on his European Senior Tour debut in the Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum.
Cunning, who won the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 1997, finished on seven under par 206 at The Empire Hotel & Country Club, two shots clear of Northern Ireland’s Jimmy Heggarty, who recorded his own best Senior Tour performance.
In doing so Cunning became the first player since Denis Watson in the 2007 US Senior PGA Championship to win on his Senior Tour debut.
Having started the day a shot behind the leader David Merriman, Cunning began his round with a birdie on the first hole before dropping successive shots on the fifth hole and the sixth hole, where he three putted from 12 feet. The 50 year old quickly steadied himself, however, and made his move with birdies on the ninth, tenth and 12th to open a three stroke gap at the top of the leaderboard.
Despite dropping a shot on a final hole where he admitted the nerves got to him, the man from Phoenix, Arizona held off the challenge of Heggarty, winner of the Senior Tour Qualifying School on Portugal’s Algarve last November, who carded a fine round of 67 to move through the field, as overnight leader David Merriman of Australia slipped back with a 76.
“Winning is always great but to do it on my debut on the Senior Tour is something special,” said Cunning, who won the 2003 Indian Open on the Asian Tour. “I tried to get on the US Champions Tour in the fall but just missed out so before the start of this week the only place I had to play was on the Asian Tour with the young guys.
“I’d been hanging in there for a few years waiting to turn 50 but this win hopefully means I can now play on the Senior Tour with guys my own age. I’ve been waiting for a win like this for a long time.
“I’ve played this course before in the Brunei Open on the Asian Tour so I knew all about it. I’d missed the cuts in those events though which kept the demons in my mind.
“The birdie on nine settled me down a lot but I’ll admit I was still nervous going down the last.”
Two-time Major winner Sandy Lyle closed with a 69 to finish in a tie for sixth place on three under par, where he was joined by former Ryder Cup winning Captain Sam Torrance who carded a final round 70. It was Lyle’s best finish to date on the Senior Tour, beating the tied 11th place he recorded in last year’s Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open.
For the champion Cunning, winning his maiden Senior Tour title in a field including Lyle and Torrance made his own achievement extra special.
“These are guys I’ve grown up on Tour admiring and looking up to so to beat them is fantastic,” he said. “I knew Sam a little so I am delighted and thrilled.
“I put a lot of hard work in over the close season after the disappointment of not making the Champions Tour and it has paid off for me,” he added.