Eger still content even after losing in playoff
It would have been the greatest victory of David Eger's life.
But he wasn't surprised that Tom Watson - a man he had watched win major championships for years - had what it took to ruin Eger's dream Sunday.
Watson rolled in a 3-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hold to beat Eager in the Senior PGA Championship.
''It's amazing,'' said Eger, a longtime PGA Tour and U.S. Golf Association rules official who worked closely with Watson and other superstars for a couple of decades. ''Tom hasn't played well this year until this week and suddenly, bam, it clicked on. I don't know what he does out there in Kansas City, or Hawaii, or wherever in the world he goes. But whatever he does, it's been the right formula.''
Eger had great jobs as a rules official, and now finds himself traveling the world playing the game he loves. Sure, he would have done anything to win on Sunday. But he's not going to jump off a bridge, either.
''I've been very lucky,'' he said. ''I can't tell you how many people have applied or have wanted the jobs that I've had with those organizations. When I turned 48 or so I decided, well, I might as well get in shape and try at that time what was called the Senior Tour. I got lucky and qualified and I've been out here for 10 years now.''
He has had a close-up of the greatest golf imaginable.
''It's the ultimate mulligan in life for a golfer to be able to come out here and play and play reasonably well at time and compete with the likes of Tom Watson and Hale Irwin and wonderful, great players who I watched from a golf cart for years and years. It's not a bad feeling. I'm comfortable in my own skin.''
Eger collected $216,000 for his runner-up finish. His best previous finish in a Senior PGA Championship was a tie for 16th in 2008. His 67 in the final round was the lowest of the day.
ECSTASY AND AGONY: Jeff Sluman came out firing at pins in the final round. He birdied the first four holes to get to 4 under for the tournament - then promptly threw it all away with a triple-bogey 7 on the fifth hole.
His triple included four putts.
But that wasn't the end of his trauma. He double-bogeyed the next hole, then birdied holes 7, 9 and 10 for seven birdies in 10 holes - and a score of just 2 under. He made three more bogeys before birdieing the closing hole for a 72 that left him at 286 and eight shots out of the playoff.
He had just five pars in the round.
FIRST MAJOR: Ken Martin, a club pro from Wellington, Fla., finally got to play in his first major golf championship at the age of 52. He barely made the cut after rounds of 73 and 75, then shot 81 and 76 on the weekend. But the scores were secondary to the emotion of making it to the pinnacle of the sport.
''If there's a bucket list, this is it, to get in a major championship,'' he said. ''I've been playing since I was 13. So it's 40 years, basically, and my first major championship. So thrilling.''
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The world's top pros make golf look easy on TV. It's rare when someone gets the opportunity to actually test themselves under the same conditions as elite athletes.
Keith Reese is a teaching pro at Valhalla Golf Club, host of the Senior PGA Championship. He played as a marker so Tim Parun would not have to play by himself in the first tee time of Sunday's final round.
It was a revelation.
''Probably through the sixth hole I was so nervous it was hard to swing the club,'' said Reese, who was greeted by applause on most holes. ''But it was a lot of fun. So I can see what these guys go through now. I can't imagine being in the lead in a major, but I guess these guys have done it and that's what they do.''
Reese, who is 46, knows the course. He's a terrific golfer. And he still struggled, shooting an 80.
Even though he's roughly in the same career field as the Hale Irwins, Tom Watsons and Nick Prices of the world, he got a new appreciation for their nerves, guile and ability.
''Wow, how difficult is that? I've seen how difficult it is now, to keep your composure and be able to hit shots,'' he said. ''You've got people watching every shot, so you feel like you have to hit a good shot. When the fans start clapping for your shots, it gives you such an unbelievable feeling.''
SHOT OF THE DAY: Eduardo Romero miss-hit his second shot to the elevated-on-rocks 13th hole, the ball glancing midway up the wall of stone and bouncing high onto the green. From there, he turned what would have been a bogey into a birdie by hitting a 10-foot putt and remain in contention.
''I hit a very fat shot and I put my head down thinking it's coming down in the water,'' he said later. ''And then I hear screaming people over there behind the green and I thought, 'What?'''
He later chipped in for a birdie, stretching his string of luck even further.
He finished with a 69 that left him tied for fifth at 281.
''Sometimes you get lucky,'' he said with a grin. ''Sometimes it happens and sometimes not, but I'm very happy.''
DIVOTS: The low club pro was Sonny Skinner from Sylvester, Ga., also the only player in the field who attended Baldwin Agricultural College. ... Next year's Senior PGA will be at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich., on May 24-27. The 2013 site is Bellerive in St. Louis. ... A total of 21 players finished under par, three more than the last time the Senior PGA Championship was held at Valhalla in 2004. ... It was the second year in a row that the tournament ended in a playoff. A year ago, Tom Lehman beat David Frost and Fred Couples on the first extra hole at Colorado Golf Club.
Rusty Miller can be reached at http://twitter.com/rustymillerap