ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — As Jay Haas approached the 18th tee at Oak Hill Country Club with a one-shot lead during the final round of the 69th Senior PGA Championship on Sunday, it felt eerily like the 1995 Ryder Cup all over again.
Same stingy East Course, same familiar pressure. And here was Haas’ opportunity not to rewrite history exactly, but to make up for a memory that has troubled him since.
“I kind of had a chuckle with myself on the 18th tee, like, ‘Well, you’ve been talking about this. It’s time to put up or shut up,'” Haas said. “You talk about ripping it and all that stuff and, damn, if I didn’t do it.”
Did he ever.
Haas hit a perfect drive into the middle of the fairway and closed with a 2-foot putt for par to clinch his second Senior PGA title in three years with a final-round 4-over 74 to finish at 7-over 287, one shot better than Bernhard Langer. Haas won his 11th Champions Tour event and claimed the $360,000 first prize of the $2 million tournament.
Just as important, this was a finish that was far better than what happened 13 years ago, when Haas drove his tee shot into the trees and settled for bogey to lose the singles match to Philip Walton, giving up the decisive point in the European team’s comeback 14 1/2-13 1/2 win over the United States.
“I exorcised some demons,” Haas said. “If I could’ve played those two shots (today) in 1995 … we probably would’ve won the Cup that year or tied it or whatever.”
Langer, a member of that European team, also remembered 1995, and graciously congratulated Haas for his victory.
“I said, ‘Well done and well-deserved,”‘ Langer said. “And he said, ‘You know, there was one guy after the Ryder Cup that came over and said some nice words to me.’ And he meant me. … It was a pleasure playing with him.”
It had to be a far bigger pleasure than playing this narrow and well-protected 7,001-yard course that surrendered only 12 sub-par rounds all week.
Langer, the third-round leader, posted a 76 on a day which he began with a double bogey after striking a spectator with his opening tee shot. Scott Hoch, Joey Sindelar and 1987 U.S. Open-winner Scott Simpson finished tied for third, two shots back.
“I probably had too much lunch or something,” said Langer, the third-round leader, who played the front nine at 6-over 41 on Sunday. “There were probably numerous shots that weren’t properly executed, let’s call it that way. … But it’s done with.”
Haas’ 7 over was the highest winning score in relation to par in the 69-year history of Senior PGA, shattering the previous high of 2 over set by Sam Snead in 1970 at PGA National at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. It also marked the second-highest winning score in Champions Tour history, two short of Arnold Palmer’s 9 over at the 1981 Senior Open at Oakland Hills.
Haas overcame a shaky putter during a topsy-turvy final round in which the final threesome – rounded out by local favorite Jeff Sluman – finished a combined 18 over for the day.
“Survived? That’s kind of how I feel,” Haas said following a five-bogey, one-birdie round. “I felt uncomfortable on the greens all along and made it much more difficult than it should’ve been.”
That was a switch after Haas put himself into contention a day earlier with an eagle-2 on No. 17.
Starting the day a shot behind Langer, Haas then took the outright lead when he holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fifth, and eventually opened a three-shot lead on the field before stumbling on the back nine.
Haas finished with 34 putts on Sunday, including a missed 3-footer for par on No. 11, and a 12-footer for par on 17.
His struggles were mirrored through the rest of the field, which produced only 73 birdies on Sunday.
Sluman had the worst day among the contenders, finishing with a 78 to drop from second to ninth.
“Frankly, I just played horrible,” Sluman said.
Greg Norman, who began the day five shots back and had all but conceded a chance at winning on Saturday, closed within two of the lead after posting three straight birdies on Nos. 12-14, putting him at even for the day and 7 over for the tournament. Norman, playing only his fourth event in two years, struggled down the stretch, finishing with a 73 and 10 over for the tournament to finish tied for sixth with Don Pooley and Ron Streck.
Haas became the 13th player to win at least two Senior PGA titles after he won at Oak Tree in 2006.
“I thought that one was awfully sweet,” Haas said. “But I think this one is definitely better.”