ENDICOTT, N.Y. (AP) — Eduardo Romero didn’t hesitate when asked about the significance of his second triumph on the Champions Tour.
“For Romero, it’s another victory,” the Argentine player said Sunday after winning the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open by one shot. “But for the country, it’s a new victory for the youngest players. Golf is growing up and up and up. This is very important for Latin America, especially Argentina.”
Romero, who never won on the PGA Tour but has more than 90 victories worldwide, had a closing 3-under 69 to beat Fulton Allem (69) and Gary Koch (65) for his first triumph since the 2006 Tradition. Romero finished at 17-under 199, equaling the score recorded by R.W. Eaks a year ago in the inaugural event.
“I’m working hard for this victory,” Romero said. “After my first victory, I played so well but no victories. I think it was time to retire sometimes. But it’s not. I’m ready again. Finally, it’s coming because I’m working hard. I’m really, really happy.”
Crowd favorite Joey Sindelar was one shot off the lead entering the final hole, but his tee shot sailed into the right trees and he made double bogey to finish fourth at 14-under 202, his fourth top-five finish in nine events since turning 50 in March and joining the Champions Tour.
“That’s OK. It’s golf. Eduardo, he didn’t fold,” said Sindelar, who lives just an hour down the road in Horseheads. “He wasn’t even having his best iron week and he’s not even making bogeys. He was just the guy.
“I wasn’t making enough birdies to get him nervous. At the end, he sputtered a couple of times, but look at that drive he hit at 18. It’s just impressive. He needed to be the guy that won.”
Romero, who began the day with a one-shot lead over Sindelar and Allem, played the front nine over the narrow, tree-lined En-Joie Golf Club course in 2 under and only had to contend with his playing partners despite a strong showing by Koch, a TV commentator playing in only his fourth official event this year.
“I play a match,” Romero said. “When the guy in front of you is making birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, you can’t control him. But with (your own) group, it’s much easier. It’s my week. When your week is coming, nobody can beat you.”
Allem had three birdies and a bogey on the front side to keep pace, while Sindelar managed two birdies as Romero made the turn still leading by one shot.
Romero hit his second shot at the par-4 10th hole to 5 feet and made birdie to reach 17 under. Allem matched Romero after hitting to 8 inches from 119 yards while Sindelar missed a 10-foot putt for birdie.
Allem, who constantly copes with a bad back that forces him to use a cart on some holes, had to feel a tinge of mental pain at the par-4 11th hole after his second shot landed in the primary rough and he was unable to get up and down. Sindelar, too, was frustrated, staring skyward when his 10-foot birdie putt stopped at the lip.
Romero made a nice recovery at the par-5 12th hole after his second shot landed in the rough behind the green, pitching to 3 feet and making birdie. Allem also birdied to remain two shots behind.
Sindelar, who won the B.C. Open in 1985 and 1987 at En-Joie, finally broke through at the par-4 13th with his first birdie in five holes, hitting to 6 feet and making the putt to tie Allem at 16 under.
Romero, who had no bogeys and only one double bogey over the first 49 holes, suddenly gave Sindelar and Allem new life at the par-3 14th. Romero drove a greenside bunker and lipped out a 4-foot par putt as his lead dwindled to one.
After all three parred the tough 15th hole, Romero and Sindelar became just the fourth and fifth players this week to drive the green at the 299-yard par-4 16th hole, setting up eagle tries for both. Sindelar was closest, but his 18-foot putt stopped 3 feet short and he settled for birdie. Romero, 64 feet away, made a nice downhill putt that broke right and stopped short, then drained a 6-foot birdie to remain on top.
At the par-3 17th, Sindelar lipped out a par putt to fall two shots back and Allem squandered a chance to gain a stroke when he pulled a 9-foot birdie try left, seemingly giving Romero an insurmountable edge with one hole to play. Then Romero missed his 4-foot putt for par, and there was still a chance.
The drama didn’t last long. After Sindelar drove the right trees at 18, his second shot ricocheted off a branch and over a wall and his chances vanished.
Romero quickly took advantage. He hit a booming drive down the middle, put his second shot to 6 feet and two-putted for par to hang on after Allem missed a long birdie putt.
Koch, who had seven birdies and no bogeys, missed a 7-foot birdie putt at 17 that, as it turned out, cost him a shot at a playoff. Not bad for a guy whose main job is broadcasting the game.
“I hit a makable putt. I hit it just a little too hard,” said Koch, who won $128,000 to most likely earn a spot in the Senior British Open in two weeks. “I was just very proud and very pleased how I played coming down the stretch. I gave myself some chances. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had playing golf in a long time.”