HAVEN, Wis. (AP) – Brad Bryant took advantage of another U.S. Senior Open flameout by Tom Watson, shooting a 4-under-par 68 on Sunday to complete the second-biggest comeback in tournament history.
Bryant’s birdie on the 16th hole at Whistling Straits gave him the lead as Watson frittered away six shots in a five-hole stretch on the back nine – the latest in a series of final-round disappointments for Watson in the high-profile senior major.
Bryant, 52, won only once in more than two decades on the PGA Tour. But he finished third on the Champions Tour money list last year with two victories, and won again earlier this year at the Regions Charity Classic in Birmingham, Ala., in May.
It was the first victory in a senior major for Bryant, who finished second in the 2006 Senior PGA championship. His comeback on the final day of the senior open was second only to Allen Doyle’s victory from nine shots back in the 2005 tournament.
Watson shot a 6-over 78 to finish 1 under for the tournament, behind Bryant, Ben Crenshaw at 3 under and Loren Roberts at 2 under.
Bryant was the only player to shoot all four rounds at par or better. The winds whipped up at Whistling Straits for the second straight day to hold scores down at the Scottish-style course that sits on the banks of Lake Michigan about an hour north of Milwaukee.
Watson is known for his ability to play in the wind, but it didn’t keep him out of trouble on the back nine Sunday.
For all his success in major tournaments on the PGA Tour, Watson has never won a U.S. Senior Open in eight tries. He finished second in three of the previous five, most recently in front of a partisan crowd in his home state of Kansas in the final round of last year’s senior open, when Watson lost to Allen Doyle.
Watson again appeared to have the tournament in hand going into the back nine this year, only to watch it slip away. Watson, who came into Sunday with a three-shot lead on Roberts, shot 1 under on the front nine and began the back nine with a birdie to go to 9 under for the tournament.
But Watson put his tee shot in a fairway bunker on the par-5 11th hole and missed a 6-foot putt for bogey that moved him to 7 under for the tournament, only one shot ahead of Bryant.
Watson missed another short putt for bogey on the 12th hole, then lost another stroke on 13 when a 6-foot par putt circled the hole and rimmed out – sending him to 5 under for the tournament and a tie for the lead with Bryant.
Bryant came into Sunday at 2 under, and began the day by shooting 4 under on the front nine. But he was having problems of his own on the back nine and couldn’t fully capitalize on Watson’s misfortune until the final few holes of his round.
After bogeying Nos. 12 and 14, Bryant finally broke with his decisive birdie on No. 16, using a sharp chip shot to set up a 3-foot putt to take a one-stroke lead over Watson at 6 under for the tournament.
Watson later put his tee shot behind a shrub on the par-4 15th hole. His club brushed the bush on his follow-through and his ball trickled forward about 20 yards into more long grass. He would chip on and three-putt, falling three shots behind Bryant.