Monday, October 08, 2007

TIMONIUM, Md. (AP) — Loren Roberts did more than dominate the field in winning the Senior Players Championship. He also vanquished the memory of the most devastating collapse of his professional career.

Roberts made four straight birdies during a sizzling front nine Sunday and cruised to an easy victory, shooting a 3-under 67 to defeat Tom Watson by six strokes.

A year ago, Roberts took a two-stroke lead into the final round of this tournament and shot a 74 to finish in a tie for third. That bitter failure lingered in his mind until he walked off the course Sunday.

"For me personally, I really exorcised some demons today," Roberts said. "To come here today and start out with a three-shot lead and get the job done, that goes a long way for me in being able to get over a little bit of a hurdle that I had from last year."

Roberts tried to forget about his performance in the 2006 tournament. He couldn't pull it off.

"You can't help but think about it," he said. "So it's nice to be able to overcome something mentally like that. I think it's probably one of the most gratifying wins I've ever had."

Roberts parred No. 1 before beginning his run of four birdies. After tapping in a short putt for a birdie on No. 9, he made the turn at 30 with a seven-shot lead.

"He just closed the door early in the round, and locked it with that birdie on No. 9," Watson said.

Roberts finished with a 13-under 267 total to claim the $390,000 winner's check.

Roberts has won three major tournaments in 13 tries on the Champions Tour since joining in July 2005; only twice has he failed to finish in the top 10. It was his seventh win on the Champions Tour compared to eight on the PGA Tour over a span of more than 20 years.

"This one might be the sweetest for me," he said, "because of what happened last year."

Tied for the lead after the first 18 holes, Roberts moved atop the leaderboard late in the second round Friday and remained in front to the end. He and Watson were the only players in the field to have four sub-par rounds.

But Watson was no match for Roberts, who's known for his putting prowess but was sensational with his irons throughout the tournament. Sunday was no exception.

"You could tell today he was on with his irons," Watson said. "The ball was right in the middle of the clubface, every shot. Drivers, irons, I could see the handwriting on the wall early in the round."

Watson shot a 68 to earn $228,800 and move over $20 million in career earnings. Fred Funk, who started in second place, shot a 71 to tie for third with Scott Simpson (65).

Teeing off in the final threesome with Funk and Watson, Roberts had a par on No. 1 before pulling away. The first of his four straight birdies came on a short putt on the par-3 second hole, which Funk also birdied.

Roberts upped his lead to four strokes with a 7-foot birdie putt on No. 3 after Funk came up short on his 15-foot putt for a birdie. Then came perhaps the most telling hole of the tournament, the par-5, 583-yard No. 4.

Roberts hit his second shot into the left bunker off the green, then chipped within 8 feet. He drained the putt, emphasizing the shot with a fist-pump. Funk, meanwhile, barely missed a 30-foot eagle putt and had to settle for a birdie that kept him four shots back with 14 to play.

Watson lost ground while making par on the first four holes. Although Watson made a curling 20-foot putt for birdie on No. 5, Roberts followed with a 6-footer for birdie to move five shots ahead of Funk, who parred the hole.

"To start off making four birdies in a row on the front nine, that was huge because it separated me from the field a little bit," Roberts said.

His birdie on No. 9 sealed it.

"I said, 'Well, that's about it,"' Watson said. "He's not going to screw up too much."

The victory gave Roberts the lead in Charles Schwab Cup points, which could earn him a $1 million bonus at the end of the year. Jay Haas held the lead through last week.

The Senior Players Championship is sponsored by Constellation Energy.

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