WALTON ON THE HILL, England (AP) — Russ Cochran toasted a family victory at the Senior British Open on Sunday, capturing his first major title with his son as caddie to maintain the United States’ recent dominance of the tournament.
With his 25-year-old son Reed carrying his bag, Cochran shot a second straight 5-under 67 in the final round at Walton Heath to win by two shots over compatriot Mark Calcavecchia.
“He relaxed me out there,” Cochran said of Reed, who is on his summer break from law school. “He made me smile and was great to be with.”
Ryan, the 52-year-old Cochran’s eldest son, was also present to witness his father’s first victory on this year’s Champions Tour – he was caddying for another American, Mike Goodes.
“It’s a big hump I’ve got over there,” said Cochran, whose victory qualifies him for next year’s British Open at Royal Lytham. “To do it in a major and on this golf course means so much. And to do it with the kids here, it’s even better.”
Cochran became the eighth player from the U.S. in the last nine years to win the Senior British Open. He achieved the biggest victory of his career by staying consistent on the tee and rolling in a series of pressure putts, closing the tournament at 12 under to claim a winner’s check of $310,000.
He made six birdies in the first 10 holes – two coming on the first two holes – to open up a five-shot lead as Calcavecchia, who shared the overnight lead with Cochran and South Africa’s David Frost, dropped back by four-putting from 15 feet on the par-3 No. 9.
Cochran’s bogey on No. 14, combined with Calcavecchia’s birdies on Nos. 12 and 15, trimmed the lead to two shots. But the champion-elect parred his way home, looking completely unruffled.
The 61-year-old Tom Watson, looking for a record fourth Open title, rolled back the years with a vintage 67 to finish tied for third with 2010 runner-up Corey Pavin at 9 under – leaving the U.S. with the top four placings.
England’s Barry Lane (70) was the highest-placed European, a shot back in fifth.
Nothing more than a journeyman on the regular tour with only one victory to his name – at the 1991 Centel Western Open when he overhauled Greg Norman in the final round – Cochran has blossomed in his three seasons on the senior circuit.
He won back-to-back tournaments in a three-week span in September last year and has played himself into regular contention at the majors, finishing third at the Senior U.S. Open in 2009 for a key breakthrough and a check for $175,152.
That qualified him for the tour’s high-profile events and he tied for third at last year’s Senior British Open at Carnoustie.
“I’ve actually mentioned it to my boys on more than one occasion, that I felt that if I was going to do some damage in a major and win a major, it probably would be here,” Cochran said.
“I enjoy the type of golf it is. I am more single-minded over here, and I just love the golf over here.”
His only previous British Open came in 1992, when he tied for 28th at Muirfield.
Cochran was playing just his second tournament after injuring his wrist during the second round of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament in late April, keeping him out for two months.
He returned at Pebble Beach two weeks ago for the Nature Valley First Tee Open, finishing tied for 10th.
“I liked him better when he was injured,” Calcavecchia said, with a smile.
The 51-year-old Calcavecchia was bidding to become the fourth player to achieve the British Open double, after his success as a regular-tour player at Troon in 1989, but stumbled with an all-too-familiar lapse in focus.
He was at a loss to explain how he needed three putts from 2 feet on the short No. 9, shaking his head ruefully as he trudged off the green. A minute later, Cochran birdied No. 7 and that three-shot swing proved decisive.
“The four-whack on the ninth hole, those usually hurt you,” Calcavecchia said.
Frost shot 72 to finish sixth at 7 under, a stroke clear of Australia’s Peter Fowler (70) and American trio Fred Funk (66), Lee Rinker (71) and Goodes (71).
Cochran heads to next week’s Senior U.S Open brimming with confidence and will look to emulate Bernhard Langer, who crossed the Atlantic last year to win back-to-back majors.
“I’m certainly the kind of guy that carries those good feelings,” Cochran said. “All I can say is I’m going to try to go there, do the research on getting my legs underneath me and my sleep patterns right, throw it in there and go from there.”