Eduardo Romero deemed himself strong and spirited at the start of the U.S. Senior Open on Thursday.
By late Sunday afternoon, the 54-year-old Argentinean had proven his point, winning the championship’s 29th edition by a commanding four strokes, the largest margin of victory since 1995.
Four straight bogeys on the back nine at The Broadmoor East Course pushed Romero to a final-round 73 — the second-highest final round score by the eventual winner. And yet Romero still finished at 6-under 274 for the championship, four shots ahead of runner-up Fred Funk (5-over 75) at 2-under 278 and five ahead of Mark McNulty (2-under 68) at 1-under 279. No one else managed to finish under par.
"The scoring, it's no good, but it's all right," said Romero, who becomes just the fifth international player to win this major and first since Australian Graham Marsh in 1997. He also joins fellow countryman Robert De Vicenzo (1980) as a champion of this major.
"I win the tournament, I take the trophy home, two U.S. Opens now in Argentina," said Romero through his broken English. "[Angel] Cabrera won the U.S. Open [in 2007] and then I won this one, it's fantastic. And then it was beautiful when I'm walking to the 18th green; I see the fans. It's fantastic. It's fantastic."
Romero won the 2006 JELD-WEN Tradition, considered one of the Champions Tour’s five majors, but this title, which brought with it a $470,000 first-place check, clearly resonated with more emotion.
"When I come here, the dream is coming true," said Romero. "This is very important, very important. I don't know how to say, because I'm still excited. I'm still shaking. But it's beautiful."
At day’s dawn, the leaderboard appeared to be a race for win, place and show. Romero was at nine under, Funk at seven under and Cook at six under — five shots ahead of Tom Kite in fourth place.
But any potential for drama evaporated early. Cook, playing in the penultimate group, bogeyed the 429-yard, par-4 first hole. While Romero and Funk followed suit on the first, Romero was the first to get a stroke back, making birdie at the 601-yard, par-5 third hole.
Cook, 50, of Windermere, Fla., would only continue to slide down the leaderboard — shooting a 77 to finish fifth.
"I really didn't do a whole lot right," said Cook, who lost the Senior British Open in a playoff with Bruce Vaughan a week ago at Royal Troon in Scotland. "Didn't get the bounces when I needed it, and I missed six 3-footers, putts that I've been making all week. A tired guy out there today, I can tell you that. I was whooped. I was trying to fight it all day long and just couldn't do it. My mind was -- I was trying as hard as I could, and I just don't get it done."
Funk, 52, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., still had some fight. He got back to within two strokes of Romero with a birdie at the 426-yard, par-4 seventh after a 34-minute suspension in play due to thunderstorms.
McNulty, 54, of Zimbabwe, began the final round at one over and went out in 4-under 32 to get within six of Romero at three under and into contention. He then found the back nine as confounding as most of the field. Of those who finished in the top 10, only David Edwards and Scott Hoch managed to play the inward nine in under par (1-under 33).
"The back nine seemed to have caught me every single day, but that's the golf course," McNulty said. "It's 18 holes of tournament championship play, and you have just got to take one hole at a time and make a par. And if you get a birdie, as I said the other day, it's a bonus."
At the 501-yard, par-4 10th, Romero began to give himself a cushion. After Funk’s third shot, a chip from just in front of the green, rebounded off the flagstick, Romero rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt to reach 10 under and increase his lead to three shots.
Romero, who once made seven bogeys in a row at the Argentinean Open, would make bogeys on holes 11-14.
"When I started to make bogey on No. 11, I remember Greg Norman when he lost the Masters and he started to make bogeys and never stopped," Romero said. "I'm thinking about it. I said, ‘Bogey, bogey, bogey,’ and then I made four bogeys, wow. I said to my caddie, ‘I have to make a putt, just one putt.’ That's what I wanted. And then it was on 15, good driver and good second shot and good putt, and then I started to relax."
Funk considered the championship over when, despite Romero making bogey, he made triple bogey at the 476-yard, par-4 13th. Funk hooked a 3-wood drive into the high grass, and then was left with an awkward second shot.
"I tried to hit a 7-iron, just get it running, and I had to go real upright with my swing, which is not normally what I do, and also had to hold the club about 6 inches above the ball and well behind it and was so close to cold-topping it … whiffing it. I did cold-top it, barely caught it and rolled into a horrendous lie. And from there was a debacle the rest of the way, and ended up getting a seven and ending the tournament."
Not completely, but Romero, who performs Rhami Hayat, a form of mental yoga, could breathe a sigh of relief. Not until after his tee shot on the 18th did he allow himself the opportunity to think about a title he so coveted.
"I said, ‘OK, I think I got it,’" Romero said.
He most certainly did.