BEACHWOOD, Ohio (AP) — Having waited two decades to finally win his first big tournament, Michael Allen has his eyes on another prize.
“This gives me the exact scenario I want,” he said with a laugh after shooting a 3-under 67 Sunday to win the Senior PGA Championship by two shots over Larry Mize. “I’m going to be the first guy ever to win a senior tour event BEFORE he wins his first PGA Tour event.”
Then he smiled, lifted his champagne flute and took a long sip.
The 50-year-old journeyman ended his lengthy victory drought with two late birdies to capture the first Champions Tour major of the year – in his debut on the over-50 tour. He almost didn’t accept the special exemption to come to suburban Cleveland because he still has his regular tour card and considered playing in the richer Byron Nelson.
Smart move, playing with boys his own age.
Allen had earlier rounds of 74, 66 and 67 to finish at 6-under 274.
“I don’t know, had he won?” Mize wondered when he was asked about Allen, a frequent playing partner on the PGA Tour. “I can’t remember.”
No, he hadn’t. Not on the big tour, anyway.
Allen collected $360,000 for his first win of any kind since the 1998 Greater Austin Open on the Nationwide Tour. His only other win came in the 1989 Bell’s Scottish Open on the European Tour.
Mize, who started the day two shots back, had a 67 and held a two-stroke lead at the turn. But he was 1 over on the back nine while Allen was going 2 under to steal the win.
“I just caught the wrong guy on the wrong week,” Mize said.
Allen became only the fourth player to win a major championship in his Champions Tour debut, joining Roberto De Vicenzo (1980 U.S. Senior Open), Arnold Palmer (1980 Senior PGA Championship) and Jack Nicklaus (1990 Tradition).
Allen drilled a long drive into the fairway on the last hole after his caddie had suggested playing it safe with a 3 iron.
“I said, ‘No, I’m smashing the driver,”‘ he said.
His 55-degree wedge approach landed just short of the flag and spun back a few feet below the hole. Needing only a two-putt to win, he rolled in the birdie putt and was embraced by his caddie, family and friends.
Bruce Fleisher had a 67 to finish third. Tom Watson, who began the day seven strokes behind Allen, had the low round of the day – a 66 – and was fourth.
Allen, who began the day ahead of Tom Kite and Jeff Sluman by a shot, was 9 under with just two bogeys over one 49-hole span until he made the only bogey of his final round. Long and accurate off the tee, he seldom found trouble and relied on a steady short game around the high rough and quick greens at stately old Canterbury Golf Club.
He played the shorter front nine in 1 over, the long and threatening back side in 7 under.
“I like the back nine,” he joked.
A two-shot swing at the par-4 12th hole – Allen holed a 6-foot birdie putt and Mize bogeyed after hitting into the deep rough off the tee – put Allen ahead. He quickly gave away the advantage when he was too cautious when hitting a wedge from behind the green and made bogey at the 14th.
At the par-5 15th, Allen drove into the deep hay left of the fairway and had to power a long iron underneath an overhanging tree to get back to the fairway. From there he chipped to 10 feet right of the hole and confidently rolled in the birdie putt to grab the lead for good.
He still wasn’t in the clear, however. He had to hit out of the thick rough on the upslope to the green at the 16th but salvaged par. Then he hit a clutch 3 iron to the par-3 17th to set up another par.
Mize drove down the middle at the uphill par-4 18th, but his second shot came up short and right. He elected to putt and rammed the 70-footer some 15 feet by. Then he calmly rolled in the par putt to remain within a shot.
All that was left was for Allen to not let the opportunity slip through his fingers.
“It makes it all worthwhile,” Allen said of his vagabond life, traveling the world chasing a little white ball. “One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to get in this situation. … To me, it is a struggle but a struggle that I enjoy every day.”
He joined the PGA Tour in 1988 and has played full-time for 12 seasons, although he took a three-year break in the late 1990s because he was sick of cashing checks but not winning. He dabbled in home construction and as a teaching pro but missed the life and lifestyle of a globe-trotting pro.
On his 13th trip to the Q-school finals, he regained his card and played at least 20 tournaments every year since 2002. This year he has played a dozen PGA Tour events so far, his best finish being a tie for 22nd at the AT&T Pebble Beach.
His biggest paycheck was $648,000 for finishing second at the 2007 Turning Stone Resort Championship.