ABERDEEN, Scotland – Tom Watson had already won the British Open twice before he figured out the nuances of links golf. So there was no better place for him to end a two-year drought on the Champions Tour.

In Scotland, no less.

Watson matched Des Smyth along the back nine at Royal Aberdeen, then won a sudden-death playoff with par on the third extra hole Sunday to capture the Senior British Open for his fourth senior major.

He also won the Senior British Open two years ago at Turnberry, and Watson won five British Open titles during his PGA Tour career, all but one of them in Scotland.

“I really think that it goes back to my understanding of links golf,” Watson said. “Before 79, I didn’t particularly like links golf. I was an American golfer. I liked it through the air, hit the ball high, couldn’t hit the ball low with much accuracy. … I finally told myself, You know, this is game is played on the ground. And you have to expect some bounces.’ And I’ve had some terrible bounces out here. But I’ve had some great bounces.”

Watson closed with a 1-under 70, while Smyth made up a three-shot deficit on the front nine and shot 67. Both finished at 4-under 280.

They made par twice on the 18th hole in the playoff before going to the 187-yard 17th, where Smyth found a pot bunker just right of the green, blasted out to 20 feet and took two putts for bogey. Watson was just beyond the green, but chipped close enough to make par for the victory.

“Maybe my concentration dipped a little,” Smyth said. “Just seemed to get ahead of it and put it in a tough position in the bunker. But Tom won, and he’s a great champion. So that’s nothing new.”

Greg Norman nearly joined them in a playoff, making birdie on the last hole for a 68 to finish one shot back at 281 in his Champions Tour debut.

It was the second time Watson won the Senior British Open in a playoff. He defeated Carl Mason at Turnberry two years ago, then won another major at the Tradition. He has not won since then.

His victory, the seventh of his Champions Tour career, puts him second in the Charles Schwab Cup points race behind Dana Quigley, who ended his eight-year streak of playing every Champions Tour event. Watson will have a chance to overtake Quigley next week at the U.S. Senior Open.

Watson also joined Gary Player (1988, 1990, 1997), Bob Charles (1989, 1993), Brian Barnes (1995-96) and Christy O’Connor Jr. (1999, 2000) as multiple winners of the Senior British Open.

Crane coasts to victory

MILWAUKEE – Slow and steady wins the … golf tournament.

Notorious dawdler Ben Crane, whose slow play irked Rory Sabbatini at the Booz Allen Classic last month and perturbed his playing partners this week, shot a 1-under 69 in sweltering heat Sunday to win the US Bank Championship by four strokes over Scott Verplank.

Chad Campbell (65) finished five shots back in third, and two-time winner Jeff Sluman (68) was fourth at minus-14.

Crane finished at 20-under 260. He’s only the second wire-to-wire winner in Milwaukee.

and the first at Brown Deer Park, where the tournament’s been played for 11 years. Ed Snead did it in 1974 at Tuckaway Country Club.

Crane, whose only other PGA tour win came at the 2003 BellSouth Classic, is the fourth golfer this year to put his name atop the leaderboard all four rounds of a tournament, joining Phil Mickelson (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), Justin Leonard (FedEx St. Jude Classic) and Tiger Woods (British Open).

After enduring a stormy three days that included nearly 10 hours of rain delays, tornado warnings, two course evacuations and a suspension on account of darkness, the golfers slogged through a hot, humid final day at Brown Deer Park, where the heat index hovered around 105 degrees.

The greens were soft and sticky but the winds kept scores from getting wildly low and putting too much pressure on Crane.

Before this week, Milwaukee hadn’t had but one brief rain delay in the last 18 years. One player who didn’t handle the unusually rotten conditions was 2004 champion Carlos Franco, who finished with a 2-under 278.

“I like to play a firm course,” said Franco, adding that all the stops and starts “took off a little bit of my patience.”

I hope next year is better.”

So do the organizers.

The bad weather resulted in the leaders coming off the course Saturday night with only about 40 fans in the grandstands around the 18th green, and the high temperatures kept the crowds down on Sunday, too.

Crane didn’t mind the soggy course or the sparse crowds.

His three-day total of 19-under-par 191 was the best 54-hole start on tour this year and just one stroke shy of the tournament record set by Sluman in 2002. It was his first 54-hole lead on tour, and his two-stroke advantage over Verplank quickly doubled when Verplank bogeyed No. 1 and Crane birdied No. 2.

Crane holed out from 19 yards from the first rough on No. 6 for an eagle to go to 21-under and even though he bogeyed the next hole, he made the turn with a four-shot lead over Verplank, who, like the rest of the field, never mounted a serious charge and shot a 71.

Verplank was hoping to snap his streak of 96 tournaments without a win. His last victory was the 2001 Bell Canadian Open.

After Crane’s slow play put them on the clock Saturday, Verplank said: “One day Ben is either going to get heavily fined or he’s going to play faster, I guess.”

The PGA Tour keeps track of when players get out of position and puts them on the clock. A 10th offense results in a $20,000 fine.

Crane would certainly have the wherewithal to pony up if that’s ever the case.

He pocketed a $684,000 check for his snail-slow victory on Sunday.

AP-ES-07-24-05 1757EDT


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