Two-time Major Champion Sandy Lyle captured an emotional first tournament victory in 19 years with a hard fought win in the inaugural ISPS Handa Senior World Championship presented by Mission Hills China.
Lyle had been without a victory since winning the last of his 18 European Tour titles in the 1992 Volvo Masters but the Scot brought that barren run to a commanding end with a flawless final round 70 over the World Cup Course at Mission Hills to finish on 12 under par 204, three strokes clear of Australian Peter Fowler.
“You wonder after about four or five years whether you’ll ever win again let alone nearly 20, so this is very special,” said the 53 year old.
“I joined the Senior Tour and it didn’t happen as quickly as I expected it to so you do have doubts. My trophy cabinet has been gathering dust over the years so I feel relieved to get a win and it’s even better that it’s here in China on this course. This answers a lot of questions I had about myself.”
The five-time Ryder Cup player began the final round with a two shot advantage and never looked like relinquishing it despite Fowler’s enduring challenge, which only ran out of steam over the last two holes.
Lyle birdied the second hole before picking up another shot on the sixth hole and while Fowler moved within one shot of him with a birdie on the 16th, the Australian then bogeyed the 17th to restore Lyle’s cushion.
Par on the closing hole – where he had dropped his only shot of the tournament in the second round - compared to another bogey by Fowler was enough to give Lyle a victory that he admitted was one of the most meaningful in his 34 year professional career.
“This victory is very sweet as it’s obviously been such a long time,” said Lyle. “I said a couple of years ago that I’d be happy just to win a Par Three contest – it had been that long.
“I showed a lot of patience this week. I only made one bogey in three rounds which is way beyond my norm. Usually I’d make at least four or five but I was very consistent.
“I drove the ball well which is important on a course like this. My iron play wasn’t actually that hot today but I kept it reasonably close.
“Peter played well and put the pressure on when he got to one shot but he found the rough on 17th and all though he recovered really well he missed a six footer for par which gave me a two shot lead again going down the last which really helped.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy today and I certainly didn’t run away with it but it was a lot nicer going to the 18th with a two shot lead rather than a one shot lead when you’ve not won for so long.”
Lyle, who is an ambassador for title sponsor ISPS, had given warning of an impending return to the winners’ enclosure when he started the 2011 season by finishing runner up in the Handa Australian Senior Open and tied fifth in the Handa Cup Senior Masters in Japan to lead the European Senior Tour Order of Merit.
The 1985 Open Champion and 1988 Masters Champion extended his advantage at the top to €51,783 courtesy of collecting the €37, 484 first prize in China, with 2010 Order of Merit winner Boonchu Ruangkit moving into second place courtesy of finishing tied eighth along with Ian Woosnam at Mission Hills.
Fowler’s closing 71 for second place represented his best finish on the Senior Tour following an injury plagued two years. Paraguay’s Angel Franco was third on seven under par after also signing for a 71.