Jerry Pate handles wind to win Turtle Bay Championship

Jerry Pate handles wind to win Turtle Bay Championship

KAHUKU, Hawaii (AP) — Jerry Pate woke up to a brilliant rainbow outside his hotel window and believed he was destined to win.

Then he went out Sunday and handled the howling wind in the Turtle Bay Championship, closing with a 2-under 70 for a two-stroke victory over Jim Thorpe and senior rookie Fulton Allem.

The 54-year-old Pate, four strokes behind leader Gil Morgan after the second round, breezed to a 5-under 211 total for his first victory in 39 starts and second career Champions Tour title.

With tears in his eyes, Pate dedicated the victory to his trainer’s 26-year-old son, Justin Wilk, who was found dead earlier this month in Florida. Kevin Wilk and his son helped rehabilitate Pate after several shoulder surgeries and got him back to golf.

Pate visited with the family before coming to Hawaii and wanted to win one of the first two events in their honor.

“Life is fragile and it’s personal when something like this happens,” he said.

The rainbow served as an omen for Pate, who had tournament officials send the trophy to his trainer’s clinic in Birmingham, Ala.

“It was the most perfect (rainbow) from tip to toe,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s a great omen. I’m going to win today.”‘

Allem (73) and Thorpe (74) each birdied the final hole to tie for second.

“Pate is a good champion. He survived three days of very, very tough conditions and he deserved to win,” Thorpe said.

Morgan (77), 2006 champion Loren Roberts (71), Wayne Grady (70) and Monday qualifier Robert Thompson (72) tied for fourth, three strokes back.

Relentless tradewinds blew 20 to 25 mph with gusts reaching 35 mph, which eliminated any routine shots. The players scrambled, switched clubs and talked to their caddies, and themselves.

“Today was survival,” Thorpe said.

The wind seemed to shake everyone like the ironwood trees, except for Pate.

“The tougher the better,” Pate said. “Unfortunately, golf becomes a lot of times a putting contest instead of the whole game.

“For me, when you stand out there and see who can hit it the best, hit the fairways and get it on the greens and when par means something, that plays right into my hands.”

Pate missed a 12-foot putt for par on the 54th hole that would’ve made him the only player to shoot in the 60s in the final round of the 50-and-over circuit’s first full-field event of the year. He was just one of four players to break par.

With the field struggling just to make par on the Palmer Course, Pate made a mid-round rally with three straight birdies on Nos. 8-10 that pushed him to the top of the leaderboard at 6 under.

The whistling wind forced the 1976 U.S. Open winner to step away before he calmly sank a 4-foot putt on the par-5 eighth for a share of the lead. Pate took the outright lead on the following hole by sinking an 8-footer for birdie.

With everyone faltering, Pate went up by two strokes over Bernhard Langer heading into the home stretch. It became a fight for second when Langer bogeyed 15.

Pate said he never looked at the leaderboard and didn’t know he had sealed the win until his caddie told him about his four-stroke lead at 18.

Pate earned $240,000, which tied the largest of his professional career.

“I’m going to call him and make sure he gives me a little piece of that,” said Thorpe, who earlier gave Pate a putting tip to shorten his back swing with the strong wind.

It was Pate’s first victory since the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in the injury-shortened 2006 season where he underwent right-shoulder surgery in the summer to repair torn cartilage. The Outback victory was his first win in nearly 24 years, since the 1982 Players Championship.

Langer, who tied for third last week at the MasterCard Championship, closed with a 76 join Denis Watson (71), Keith Fergus (72), James Mason (72), Tom Kite (74) and Morris Hatalsky (75) at 1 under.

Defending champion Fred Funk, who ran away an 11-stroke victory last year, had a horrendous final round of 81. His highest round last year was 65.

Funk was coming off a win last week in the winners-only MasterCard Championship.

Last year, Funk had the most-lopsided victory ever in a 54-hole Champions Tour event, finishing with consecutive 8-under 64s for an 11-stroke, wire-to-wire win. He had a tournament-record 23-under 193 total.

The 18-stroke margin between the two years at Turtle Bay is the largest difference in a 54-hole Champions Tour event.

Hale Irwin, the six-time Turtle Bay champion and a nine-time winner in Hawaii, had a birdie-free 77 and finished tied for 33rd at 5 over.

Divots: Pate’s winning score was the highest since 1990 when the event was played on Maui and Bob Charles won at 4 under. … The last tournament without a player in the 60s in a round was in the second round of last year’s Senior British Open. … Mike McCullough used a woman’s putter after his broke and closed with a 72. … Walter Zembriski, who replaced an injured Peter Jacobsen, closed with a 90 and finished in last place at 30 over. … David Orgrin struggled in his Champions Tour debut. Playing on a sponsor exemption, Orgrin closed with a 75 for a 9-over 225 total.

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