WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Bob Gilder changed his putting approach a few days ago and it made a big difference.
Instead of leading with his left hand on his stroke, he decided to start leading with his right.
“I felt I could be more aggressive through the ball,” Gilder said.
Gilder knocked in a succession of birdie putts with his new stroke during the Principal Charity Classic and nailed the most memorable of them all at the end, sinking a downhill 30-footer for birdie on 18 Sunday to win the tournament by one shot.
“About 3 feet from the hole, I just knew it was in,” Gilder said. “It was rolling so good, I knew it was going to get in there.”
Even with that dramatic shot, Gilder needed a sudden collapse by tournament-long leader Mark Brooks to win it. Brooks bogeyed 17 after hitting his second shot into the water and three-putted 18 for another bogey when a par would have meant a playoff.
Still, Gilder will take it. It was his 10th Champions Tour victory, including this tournament in 2002, but his first since 2006.
“It’s just been a long time,” said Gilder, choking up in the emotion of the moment. “You put in a lot of work as you get older. You kind of wonder if you can do it again.”
Now, Gilder is taking off on a two-week European vacation full of confidence and with a nice extra chunk of change to boot. He has played in 178 straight tournaments for which he was eligible, but that streak will end because he’ll miss the upcoming Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn.
After what happened over the past three days, Gilder couldn’t care less. His best finish previously this year had been a tie for 56th.
“I knew I was better than that,” Gilder said. “I knew I was going to play better and I knew something good was going to happen.”
The 60-year-old Gilder played his last 44 holes without a bogey and closed with a 6-under 65 for a 14-under 199 total.
Brooks seemed assured of his first victory in seven starts on the Champions Tour when he led by three strokes with four to play. But his bogey-bogey finish left him at 68, ruining an otherwise solid tournament. He had led after each of the first two rounds.
“That was a disaster,” Brooks said.
Mike Goodes and Rod Spittle each came in at 65 to finish two strokes back. Mark Calcavecchia, who trailed Brooks by one stroke heading into Sunday, shot 69 and finished three off the lead.
Gilder’s victory followed 61-year-old Tom Watson’s win in the Senior PGA Championship, the first time in the 50-and-over tour’s history that 60-plus players have won back-to-back tournaments. It’s just the 20th time that a player 60 or over has won.
His win also snapped a streak of four straight tournaments ending in playoffs. But even with his clinching putt, this one appeared headed for a playoff because Brooks needed to merely two-putt from 25 feet for a tie.
But he rolled his birdie putt 5 feet past the hole, then missed the comebacker as the gallery groaned.
“That was one of the few I hit past the hole all week,” Brooks said. “The rest were short, short, short. If I had putted good today, I would have won by three or four strokes.”
He didn’t, though, and Gilder had a long-awaited victory, ending a drought of four years, eight months and 13 days since winning at the Constellation Energy Classic.
“I thought it was going to be a playoff,” Gilder said. “That’s not a good way to lose it for Mark. It’s not a fun way to lose.”
Trailing by four through 14 holes, Gilder shaved off a stroke on each of the next two holes with birdies, then got to within a single stroke of the lead when he parred 17. Then came the dramatic 18th and a putt that rolled and rolled and rolled – and dropped in the hole.
“Until he hit into the water on 17, winning really hadn’t entered my mind,” said Gilder, who had only one bogey in the 54 holes. “And then I saw that happen and I said geez, I could knock it on the green and he could make double and we’d be tied. Whoa. It’s like, time to panic.
“But I felt good, even after that.”
Spittle played the last 48 holes without a bogey. He got himself onto the leaderboard by making four birdies and an eagle during a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round.
After two early bogeys, Goodes birdied seven of his last 12 holes to keep pace with Spittle, his playing partner. His highlight: A long chip for birdie on No. 17 after hitting into the stands.
“That was the only good shot I hit on that hole,” he said. “That’s the way golf is. Sometimes it only takes one.”
Calcavecchia was tied for the lead through 7, but bogeyed the par 5 No. 9 hole to fall three back and saw his hopes of a late run end with bogeys on the final two holes.
Defending champion Nick Price closed with a 66 to finish six back. Price had recorded nine straight rounds in the 60s in this tournament before shooting 71 on Saturday.
Keith Fergus tied the tournament record with a 63, the best round of his Champions Tour career, after starting 76-73. He put up eight birdies in his bogey-free round, including four in a row on the front nine.
A 63 was recorded three times previously in this tournament, most recently by Tommy Armour III in the first round last year.