U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Maggert Emerges From Crowded Leader Board to Win Senior Open
June 28, 2015 | Sacramento, Calif.
By Dave Shedloski
Jeff Maggert, who often appeared ready to solve the perplexing U.S. Open puzzle only to come up missing a piece or two, finally claimed a national championship Sunday, winning the 36th U.S. Senior Open by two strokes over defending champion Colin Montgomerie.
Buoyed by three straight birdies to begin the day, Maggert orchestrated a nearly flawless 5-under-par 65 at sun-drenched Del Paso Country Club to claim his second senior major of the year. He completed 72 holes in 10-under 270 to emerge from a pack of 16 players who started the day separated by only two strokes atop the leader board.
“I’m honored to take this trophy home, and I will cherish it the rest of my life,” said an emotional Maggert, whose wife, Michelle, and their two children, Jake and Madeline, flew in from Hilton Head Island, S.C., Sunday in time to see Jeff win his third senior title – equaling his number of PGA Tour victories.
Montgomerie, who won his second straight Senior PGA Championship last month, didn’t make a bogey in shooting a sparkling final round in his own right (66), but his string of eight pars to end the championship proved costly in his bid to be the first repeat winner since Allen Doyle in 2006.
“I must admit, I thought to get to 8 under would have been good enough, to be honest,” said Montgomerie, 52, of Scotland. “All credit to Jeff Maggert for scoring what he's scored. Even at the start of the day, 5 under leading, I thought 8 might well be good enough. It's just unfortunate that it's come up a couple short. But that's nothing to do with me. That's Jeff Maggert's great play. And all credit to him.”
Bernhard Langer, of Germany, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open champion, began the day sharing the 54-hole lead with Maggert, and he immediately jumped ahead with a 36-foot eagle putt on the par-5 opening hole. He was tied with Maggert after a birdie on the fourth, but bogeys ensued after poor drives at Nos. 6 and 8, and he never recovered. His 68 left him tied for third with Grant Waite, of New Zealand, at 7-under 273. Playing in his first U.S. Senior Open, Waite closed with a 67.
Another stroke back and tying for fifth were Billy Andrade and Lee Janzen, who were paired together and lit up the course for 63 and 64, respectively. Andrade’s effort, with seven birdies and no bogeys, was the low round of the championship and tied for the second lowest round in a USGA Open championship (U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Senior Open).
During an 11-year period starting in 1994, Maggert was a perennial contender in the U.S. Open, occupying the top 10 during a number of rounds and finishing in the top 10 seven times, including third place in 2002 and 2004. With a classic swing that emphasized accuracy, his game seemed tailor made for U.S. Open setups. But he admits he might have lacked the maturity to close out one of those championships.
His swing still delivers the ball onto fairways and greens – he hit 73.1 percent of the fairways on the weekend and missed just one on Sunday – but he’s a more complete player at age 51. He never trailed after the third hole on Sunday, and only a bogey on the long par-4 16th marred his scorecard. By then, however, he was three ahead, and he was able to close out the victory without much stress.
“Now that I'm an old guy,” he said with a grin, “I've learned a lot and was able to just steady myself and play well.”
“Jeff played outstanding. I was with him, obviously, all day. Saw every shot, and he played brilliant,” said Langer, 57, fourth all-time in Champions Tour wins with 24. “He hardly ever missed. He was just striping it down the fairway and on the green and just the matter of making a putt or not. Fun to watch. I just didn't have my A-game today.”
The three birdies to open the final round marked Maggert’s second red-number run of the week. On Friday, he made a championship-tying five straight for another 65, and that streak, which came as he stood 2 over par, got him into the picture.
“Definitely, the five birdies in a row kind of took my tournament from a standpoint where it was looking like kind of a middle-of-the-pack week to those five birdies thrusting me out where: ‘Hey, let's get your head in the game here. You're going to have a chance to win.’ So that was definitely a turning point,” he said.
With the victory, Maggert earns an exemption into the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he finished tied for ninth in the 1994 championship. So he gets another shot at the national championship. Claiming the senior title shouldn’t be viewed as a secondary accomplishment, however.
“Well, it's satisfying just because of the guys out here on the Champions Tour are the same guys that I was trying to beat 20 years ago, and they're great players,” said Maggert, who won the Regions Tradition in May. “All of the game that these guys have is, I would say, almost just as good as it was 20 years ago. The thing that hurts us a little bit is our distance off the tee. Other than that, these guys are playing just as well as they were 20 years ago. Their iron play and their short game and their putting, they're just all fantastic players still. Tough to beat.”
Kevin Sutherland, a Sacramento native, climbed within two of Maggert when he birdied the 15th, but a double bogey at the ensuing hole ended his chances. He ended up with a 68 and 275 total, good for a tie for seventh place with Tom Watson and Scott Dunlap, who each shot 69.
The leader after each of the first two rounds, Watson, 65, birdied the first hole from 6 feet for an early share of the lead, but the 1982 U.S. Open champion struggled to get anything going the rest of the way to be denied the one senior major he covets. He did birdie the last, however, from 33 feet for a celebratory sendoff and good vibes going into his final British Open appearance in three weeks on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland.
Mike McCoy, 52, of Des Moines, Iowa, the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, closed with a 69 and 282 total to finish tied for 26th for the second year in a row. And also for the second year in a row, that was good enough to win low-amateur honors.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work regularly appears on USGA websites.