ENDICOTT, N.Y. (AP) — John Huston finally slowed his normally quick pace as he walked the 18th fairway at En-Joie Golf Club. It was time to soak in some adulation after a long drought and it felt so very good.
Playing in just his third Champions Tour event, Huston shot a 7-under 65 on Sunday, taking advantage of three straight bogeys by the normally steady Mark Wiebe, and won the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open by three shots.
Huston finished at 16-under 200, earning a three-shot victory over Nick Price, who had a 66. Wiebe was another shot back after a 71.
It was Huston’s first win since the PGA Tour’s 2003 Southern Farm Bureau Classic.
“Every time you tee it up, in the back of your mind you’re hoping you’ll win,” said Huston, who turned 50 on June 1. “It certainly feels good to go ahead and get a win early. Anytime you win anything, it feels good.
“Myself, I won seven times (on the PGA Tour) and I probably didn’t enjoy it as much, you know. I took it for granted a little bit. I’m really going to enjoy this. Once your skills start diminishing, even a little bit, you start doubting yourself a little bit.”
Wiebe won two weeks ago at Rock Barn and began the day with a two-shot lead over Huston, but his string of bogey-free holes stopped at 75 when he bogeyed Nos. 12-14 to drop out of the lead.
“I never really got the rest I wanted since Rock Barn. I think I was kind of spent,” Wiebe said. “I hadn’t made many mental errors. With my game, I have to really play flawless golf and I was doing a good job of it, really limiting the mental errors. Then three holes in a row I made mental errors, and that’s usually when I’m tired. I think that’s what happened.”
Still, Wiebe managed to regain his composure and rallied with two straight birdies, then had a chance for another at the short par-3 17th. Huston also birdied No. 16 and then sealed the victory after hitting his tee shot at 17 to within a foot of the pin.
“I actually hit it close on 17,” Wiebe said. “Before John hit, I thought, well, I’m two back, I’m still in the running here, anything can happen. Then he hit a gimme, so that ended that little pep talk.”
An errant drive at the par-4 closing hole brought a smile to Huston’s face after it bounced just past the water hazard that lines the left side of the fairway and left him with a nice lie.
“I was just trying to just totally play my own game,” he said. “I was just trying to worry about myself … do my own thing.”
Local favorite Joey Sindelar (68) finished at 11 under, tied with Jim Gallagher Jr. (65). Peter Senior (67), Ted Schulz (68), Jay Don Blake (70) and Peter Jacobsen (68) finished at 10 under and tied for sixth.
The bogey at 12, statistically the easiest hole at the short, tree-lined En-Joie Golf Club course, was devastating for Wiebe, who was 1 over on the four par 5s.
Huston birdied two of the three holes that Wiebe bogeyed to vault from a two-shot deficit to a two-shot lead, then nearly gave it away when his drive at the difficult 15th hole sailed right next to a cart path and he had to take a drop.
But he saved par with a two putt from 45 feet after his second shot barely made the green, coming perilously close to the massive water hazard that guards the hole.
“After I dropped it off the path, the one thing I didn’t want it to do was turn left and it started turning over to the left,” Huston said. “The grass kind of grounded it and carried it by maybe 2 feet.”
Seconds later, Wiebe sank a 30-foot birdie putt that broke 4 feet on its way to the hole and continued a late rally with a 12-foot birdie at the par-4 16th hole. Huston, who caught a break at 16 when his drive hit a spectator standing next to the green, responded with a 5-foot birdie to hold his two-shot lead.
“I wondered if my putting would hold up,” Huston said. “I was pretty hopeful of playing well. I felt like I was hitting the ball really well, and I thought if my putting held up at all that I would do pretty well, and this is definitely the best putting week that I’ve had.”
Somebody had to go real low to have a chance to overtake Wiebe, who took a stretch of 64 holes without a bogey into the round, and Jim Rutledge quickly showed the course would be very giving on a calm, overcast day. Rutledge reeled off five birdies on his first five holes to reach 9 under before Wiebe even teed off.
Wiebe leads the Champions Tour in putting average, but he didn’t work any magic with it on the front nine where he had just one birdie – a putt inside 2 feet at No. 2 – as he tried to protect his two-shot lead.
Huston consistently outdrove the 53-year-old Wiebe, and Huston’s aggressiveness paid off with four birdies on the front side, including two at the three par-5s. He hit his second shot at the 553-yard eighth hole to the back fringe of the green, watched his eagle chip stop 8 feet short of the hole but still made birdie.
That offset a bad bogey at the par-3 seventh hole, when Huston three-putted from the far right corner, and he tied Wiebe at 12 under with a 9-foot birdie putt at No. 9.
Unfazed, Wiebe rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 10 and a 12-foot birdie at the 11th hole to regain that two-shot cushion over Huston, then gave it right back at 12. Huston then rolled in a 3-foot birdie putt to tie Wiebe at 13 under.
Divots: Hale Irwin (67) finished at 9 under and tied for 10th, the 203rd top-10 of his Champions Tour career. … Huston hit 17 of 18 greens and 10 of 14 fairways … Price’s second-place finish allowed him to gain ground on Schwab Cup leader Tom Lehman, who tied for 15th. Lehman has 1,494 points, Price is at 1,053, and Tom Watson is third at 850.