Bart Bryant has his first victory on the Champions Tour, and it’s a cinch he’ll never forget it.
Bryant, who shot a tournament record-tying 10-under 62 in the second round, closed with a 72 on Sunday and finished at 16-under 200 to beat Russ Cochran (67) and Corey Pavin (69) by one shot.
Duffy Waldorf (69) and Gene Sauers (67) tied for fourth, another shot back.
First-round leader Kenny Perry shot a 68 to tie for seventh at 12 under. He was one shot better than Bernhard Langer and extended his lead over Langer in the Charles Schwab Cup standings.
It was a special moment for Bryant and for the senior tour. He became the 1,000th champion in the history of the Champions Tour, which began in 1980 at the Atlantic City Country Club in Atlantic City, N.J. Don January, who won that first tournament, was on hand to congratulate Bryant.
”We thought there might be a market for us old guys,” the 83-year-old January said. ”We was just interested in getting enough to make a living. There were a bunch of us guys in our late 40s and early 50s still trying to play the (PGA) tour and wasn’t being very successful at it. Yet we felt like we could still play a little bit.
”And I’m talking about guys like (Sam) Snead, (Julius) Boros, Bob Goalby, Gene Littler, Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer. That was quite a group. So we stuck our toes in the water and it turned out to be what it is today.”
The inaugural year consisted of four events. The other three played that year were at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Suntree in Melbourne, Fla., and Turnberry Isle in North Miami Beach, Fla. The purse at the Atlantic City Senior International was $125,000 and the total prize money for the four-event season was $475,000. January took home $20,000. Bryant, whose best previous finish this season was a tie for fourth at the 3M Championship two weeks ago, pocketed $270,000 on Sunday.
”Truthfully, when we first started we had no idea how long it was going to last, or whether it would even be successful,” January said. ”We thought we had a pretty good product, but we weren’t sure of anything. I never thought in that realm of 1,000 tournaments. My god, that’s forever. It’s come a long way. Hopefully, it will get better.”
For, Bryant, who won in just his 14th start on the circuit, it was his first victory since winning the 2005 Tour Championship, ending a drought of 7 years, 9 months, 11 days. He also won the 2005 Memorial and the 2004 Valero Texas Open on the PGA Tour.
Bryant and older brother Brad became the third set of brothers to claim Champions Tour events, joining Dave and Mike Hill, and Lanny and Bobby Wadkins. Bryant also is the fifth player since the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open began in 2007 to make the event his first win, joining R.W. Eaks (2007), Lonnie Nielsen (2009), John Huston (2011) and Willie Wood last year.
Bryant, who held the largest lead entering the final round of this tournament since its inception in 2007, vowed not to play conservatively because the narrow, tree-lined En-Joie Golf Club course was yielding lots of birdies under near-ideal conditions. Luckily for Bryant, nobody made that winning surge.
”It was a difficult day for me,” Bryant said. ”Somehow, I managed to get it in.”
The key to going low at En-Joie is to keep the ball in the fairway, and nobody did it better than Bryant over the first two rounds. He was a model of consistency, hitting 10 of 14 fairways each day and reaching all but two greens in regulation. Small wonder he was the only player in the field to avoid making a bogey the first two days.
That consistency vanished with Bryant’s first shot Sunday as he hooked his drive at No. 1 into the left rough. He hit just 4 of 7 fairways and reached only five greens in regulation on the front nine. His errant shots finally caught up to him at the par-3 fourth hole when he overshot the green, pitched back past the hole and over a ridge well past the pin and made bogey.
Waldorf made a pair of birdies on the front side despite some erratic driving – he hit only three fairways but reached every green in regulation. He sank an 8-foot birdie putt at No. 2 and made the other at the par-5 fifth hole with a nice up-and-down after hitting his second shot to the edge of a cart path and taking a drop.
Pavin, alone in second at the start of the day, was unable to make putts that were there for the taking on the front and parred every hole. Four birdies and one bogey on the back side weren’t enough for that winning rally, his putt for birdie at the closing hole missing by inches.
Cochran, six shots behind after two rounds, reached 13 under with three birdies in his first seven holes to move into second.
Bryant finally broke through with birdies at Nos. 8 and 9. He spun his third shot at the par-5 eighth hole to within 2 feet, eliciting a nice cheer from the gallery, and calmly sank a 10-foot putt at No. 9 to go 17 under. It was just enough as he parred the next eight holes before bogeying 18.
Bryant missed a terrific opportunity after driving to 7 feet at No. 17 and missing the birdie putt, then recovered from another errant drive on the closing hole. After driving the right rough at No. 18, Bryant hit to 30 feet but missed a short par putt and made bogey to eke out the win.
Bryant’s four-stroke lead over Pavin after two rounds was the largest 36-hole margin in the tournament’s brief history and he needed every one.