Daley caps storybook finish to win Senior Players Championship
With a one shot lead on the 18th hole and facing a 21-foot birdie putt that would clinch the 2012 Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club, Daley didn’t flinch.
“I worked hard all day to keep my emotions under control, and stay focused,” Daley said. “My caddie helped me in reading the greens. I had it with the right speed and it went in, so wow! What else could I say? It was a downhill bender. I mean it picked up a little speed and then fell in the right side of the hole, so it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The putt clinched Daley’s first Champions Tour victory as he finished with a 68, good for a tournament best 14-under par, topping 2011 Champions Tour Player of the Year Tom Lehman by two strokes on a day where Fox Chapel Golf Course’s greens got faster along with an increase in windy conditions that put the players to the test.
For Daley, it was a storybook finish. He’s been a journeyman golfer who didn’t turn pro until he turned 32, and was known for missing a controversial putt in a PGA Tour qualifying event in 2001 – that hit the inside of the cup and bounced straight back. (Here’s the infamous YouTube video).
Earlier this week when asked about that infamous putt, he shrugged it off, “it’s ancient history.” Instead, he fueled his outstanding play with an optimistic approach that culminated with his first victory.
“I have always strived to get better and improve, whether it’s working out or a certain degree of practice,” Daley said. “You know you’re going to be up against tough competition and you get beat, and you have to keep a good attitude so you keep improving incrementally an then move on to the next competition and that’s what I’ve done over a period of time.”
Daley battled throughout the afternoon to stave off a trio of major winners on the PGA Tour, by completing a four-day total of 66-64-68-68, 268.
Lehman was on his heels throughout the day, but stumbled a bit, bogeying 13, 14 and 16, then recovered to birdie 17 and 18 to close to within one shot of Daley.
“You know, I was just a little bit off today,” Lehman said. “With the conditions being what they were being a little bit off was enough. It was playing like a U.S. Open with the firmness of the greens and the speed, the rough, the wind and how fast the fairways were.”
Defending Senior Players Champion Fred Couples and last week’s Champions Tour winner at the Montreal Open, Mark Calcavecchia, played in the final group with Daley, but each faltered in their final round. Daley surged to his lead over them after birdies on consecutive holes in the middle of the round.
“He was solid. He made every one of his putts. You know I think (birdies) on 9 and 10 were huge for him,” said Calcavecchia, who finished with a 72.
Calcavecchia’s bogeys on 16 and 17 pretty much sealed his fate.
“I wasn’t putting bad, just wasn’t my day,” said Calcavecchia. “It was Joe’s day, and that’s fine. What a difference a week makes.”
Couples also got to within a shot of Daley, only to bogey on 15 and 16. He continued to struggle and could be caught continuously stretching his back and found the final two rounds to be a struggle.
“To have a shot at winning and shoot 70-71 is not very good,” said Couples. “There’s not much to say. At least I’ll get a couple weeks off.”
Olin Brown, who tied the course and tournament records on Friday with a 62, had a nice comeback attempt to shoot a 65 on Sunday to claim third place at 11-under par for the tournament. The low round of the day was posted by Mark Brooks, who shot a 6-under par 64.
But this day belonged to Daley.
In a career where he’s never held an exemption on the PGA Tour or the Champions Tour, he’s now earned fully exempt status (which means he doesn’t have to qualify for tournaments) through next July 1st as well as a spot in next year’s Senior Players Championship.
For a guy that has been playing just to get into tournaments for most of his career, it’s unchartered territory and a very worthwhile achievement.
“It’s big for me, instead of having to go into qualifying. It just opens up other opportunities to go out and prove how good I can be and compete against these guys because these guys can play,” said Daley. “It just will be a continuation of the process of more competition and playing great golf.”
This week Daley didn’t just play great golf, he persevered to become a winner of a golf Major event. And that’s the part he’s having a hard time believing.
“It hasn’t really sunk in.”
SENIOR PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES
FOX CHAPEL WAS A BIG HIT
Throughout the week, there was a lot of talk and momentum from the players, National media representatives and even an endorsement from the King himself, Arnold Palmer on Saturday, to have the Champions Tour bring the Senior Players Championship back to Fox Chapel again, possibly into the next few years. Tournament officials have said they will review and consider all options for the future sites of the event.
Greg Norman playing in his first Champions Tour event since 2009, wore black and gold attire on Sunday, shooting a 71, good enough for +5 for the tournament. “I haven’t played a lot, and it showed in my game. But it was good to be out here. I enjoyed it,” said Norman. “I’ll play in the Senior British Open, but that’s probably about it for this year. Life away from golf is fantastic, I don’t see myself playing that much more.”
The first 10,000 fans through the gates today were given Terrible Towels with “Constellation Senior Players Championship” logo. Daley walked off to the scorer’s tent waving a Towel, much to the delight of the crowd.
The galleries for the final groups and for some big name players like Tom Watson and Greg Norman were lined up and down the fairways and greens. The final attendance numbers from Tuesday through Sunday was 52,644.
Kenny Perry (-8), Fred Funk (-7), Corey Pavin (-3), Tom Watson (-3)