American Fred Couples birdied Turnberry’s closing two holes to seal a dream debut victory in The 2012 Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex, finishing two shots clear of compatriot Gary Hallberg following a dramatic final round.
Couples, who had trailed overnight leader Bernhard Langer by one shot going into the final round, took advantage of the German’s slip on the back nine to capture the title with a closing round of three under par 67.
The pair had traded blows before the turn and were tied for the lead when Couples birdied the 11th hole, before the vital swing which came at the next hole when Langer found trouble from the tee.
He hit a second shot into a bunker and was unable to advance, before then two putting from 25ft to card a double bogey six. Meanwhile Couples birdied the same hole after a glorious five iron approach to six feet to seize the outright lead.
Although he dropped a shot on the next hole, the United States Ryder Cup Assistant Captain produced a stunning finish to pull clear of Hallberg, who had birdied the 17th himself to set the clubhouse target of seven under par 273 following a superb four under par 66.
Taking a one shot lead on to the final hole, Couples knew he needed to avoid dropping a shot to clinch the title, and the 1992 Masters Champion showed his class, sinking a majestic 20 footer to clinch the 26th Senior Open Championship in style with a winning total of nine under par 271.
“It was a very fun day,” said Couples. “Being paired with Bernhard, you've got to play great and for a long time there, we were neck and neck.
“But for me I felt like I was hitting the ball very strong, very solid and I was really lucky that it didn't rain because I'm not very good in the rain! I don't wear a golf glove; I had two gloves in the bag that were all‑weather gloves and I was scared to death to ever put those on.
“That was a big birdie on 17 to make 18 play easier and then when I hit the last putt, the hole got in the way and I won by two. I'm very happy and excited to have won this.”
Couples, who finished in the top ten at The Open Championship on nine occasions, said that the victory more than compensated for those near-misses.
“It’s the next best thing for all of us,” he said. “Obviously I never won The Open. I came close. Last night I really thought about the golf course. I knew I needed to play it well, and this is my biggest Senior Tour win, by far, winning on a truly great, great golf course.
“I can say I won a Senior Open at Turnberry. I think the best thing about the whole week was playing this course. It's a challenging, very tough course, under extreme weather. It’s nice to win any event, but there've been a lot of great champions on this thing, that's for sure.”
Hallberg, who on Friday equalled the Ailsa course record with a stunning 63 in more than blustery conditions, once again showed mastery of the wind with the joint-lowest round of the day to claim second place.
“I played my two best rounds in the worst of the conditons,” said Hallberg. “I was very pleased with the way I played and congratulations to Freddie on a great performance.
“I didn’t think about setting a target. I tried to stay in the present moment. I think I did a nice job of that. I wanted to get ahead of myself. But I stayed in the present moment.”
The English pair of Barry Lane and Carl Mason finished alongside American Dick Mast in a share of third place at four under par.
Mason played alongside Tom Watson -who closed with a 69 for a share of tenth place on one under par – in a re-run of their battle in The 2003 Senior Open, which the American won in a play-off.
This time it was Mason who had the bragging rights, eagling the seventh hole en route to a 66.
“I was chuffed with the way I played,” said the 25-time Senior Tour Champion. “It was tricky again but I was right into it. I kept drawing myself back to how well I played with Tom in 2003 and I thought, maybe that's a good omen. But he's a pleasure to play with, and it was great.”
Former Masters Champion Langer, meanwhile, had to settle of a share of sixth position following a closing 75, meaning he could not reclaim the trophy he won at Carnousite in 2010.
“Obviously the back nine was a disaster,” said Langer. “I just hit a couple of loose shots and got some bad breaks. I ending up in pot bunkers and all of those things. We were on the clock, as well, which didn't help. We had to rush a lot of the shots which didn't make it any easier.
“Fred played very well, a solid round of golf and I think he deserves to win. He finished in style with birdie, birdie. That's like a great champion, so it was well deserved.”