FRED COUPLES birdied Turnberry’s closing two holes to seal a dream 2012 Senior British Open victory at his first attempt.
Couples finished two shots clear of compatriot Gary Hallberg following a dramatic final round that saw overnight leader Bernhard Langer falter on the back nine.
Australia’s Peter Fowler had an exceptional tournament but will rue three lost shots on 17 and 18. Fowler finished tied for sixth along with Langer and two others.
Couples began the day a stroke behind Langer, trading early blows before going into the turn tied for the lead.
Couples birdied the 11th hole and there was a dramatic turnaround on the 12th when Langer found trouble from the tee.
The German hit a second shot into a bunker and was unable to advance, before 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, Couples produced a stunning finish to pull clear of Hallberg, who had birdied the 17th himself to set the clubhouse target of 7-under after 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 but instead sunk a majestic 20 foot birdie putt to clinch the title at 9-under.
“It was a very fun day,” Couples said after his 3-under 67. “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 British 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.”
It was the 52 year old’s second Senior Major Championship following his victory at the 2011 Senior Players Championship, his eighth win since turning 50 in October 2009 and his 55th victory overall as a professional. (Thank god he didn’t have to put those scary gloves on.)
Hallberg, who on Friday equalled the Ailsa course record with a stunning 63 in terrible 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.”
The English pair of Barry Lane and Carl Mason finished alongside American Dick Mast in a share of third place at four under par.
Langer finished with a 5-over 75, disappointed he was unable to repeat his victory in the event at Carnoustie 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 ended 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.”
Langer finished on 2-under along with Fowler and Americans John Cook and Mark Webe.
Fowler was two behind the leaders with two to play
Fowler surged into contention with a super 65 in the third round and after two birdies matched by two bogeys earlier was 5-under alone in third going into the par–five 17th.
Two behind the then leaders he unfortunately found the deep rough with his second shot and the ball was unable to be located.
He had to replay that shot with a penalty and finished the hole with a double bogey.
His drive on the 18th found a fairway bunker and although he scrambled well, his attempted par putt shaved the hole. The resulting bogey saw him finish with a 3-over 73.
Peter Senior also closed with a 73 to finish on 4-over tied for 21st. Greg Norman failed to make the cut.
Returning to the scene of many past glories, 62 year old Tom Watson finished in the top ten. His final round 69 saw him finish on 1-under tied for 10th along with Tom Lehman (69), Mark Calcavecchia (66), Jay Don Blake (71) and Welshman Ian Woosnam.
2012 Senior British Open Final Results