CREVE COEUR – At the end of the longest day in Champions Tour history and on the longest course in U.S. Senior Open history, the man with a recently repaired left hip was at the top of the leaderboard.
Three months removed from the operating table, Peter Jacobsen outlasted everyone in the field Sunday at Bellerive Country Club, posting a 69 and a 68 during the grueling 36-hole final round to win the tournament at 12-under, one stroke ahead of Hale Irwin.
Jacobsen withdrew from the two tournaments he entered after his surgery, including last week’s Senior British Open in Northern Ireland, because of discomfort in his hip. Jacobsen said when he arrived in St. Louis last week he seriously contemplated another withdraw.
“I didn’t have any expectations coming in other than I might be able to play 72 holes and I think that worked to my advantage,” Jacobsen said. “I just know I got in 36 holes today and I surprised myself.”
Jacobsen, who led after the first round and was a coleader after Saturday’s second round, watched his lead slip away when Tim Kite shot a 65 on the first 18 holes Sunday to charge to a two-stroke lead over Jacobsen and Bob Gilder with 18 holes to play.
Kite, who was one group ahead of Jacobsen throughout the day, continued his strong play into the back nine of the second 18 holes. The tournament seemed his to lose after he made par at the par-4 14th hole to stay at 14-under for a two-stroke lead over Jacobsen.
The 15th and 16th holes were unkind to Kite, though. He bogeyed both to back into a tie with Jacobsen at 12-under with two holes to play, and Kite’s meltdown in the late afternoon sun was underway.
Kite arrived at the 18th tee still tied with Jacobsen, but pulled his tee shot into a bunker on the left side of the fairway. Kite’s next shot caught the lip of the bunker and bounced several yards left into the thick rough.
Kite hit his third shot short of the green and the usually short-game savvy Kite hit a poor chip 10-feet short of the hole and two-putted for a double-bogey six to fall to 10-under, one stroke behind Irwin and two behind Jacobsen.
Kite, who finished second at last week’s Senior British Open, declined to talk to the media following his fall Sunday but in a statement to tour officials said he was disappointed with his play.
“I felt like I was in control of my ball striking for 67 holes,” Kite said. “I don’t think I got tired out there, but I just made some bad swings down the stretch.”
Jay Haas, who played with Kite during the round, said Kite’s collapse was tough to watch after Kite played so well earlier in the day.
“We’ve all done what (Kite) did and I don’t think there is a man in the field who hasn’t screwed up coming down the stretch,” Haas said. “I think we all have empathy for somebody who does that because we’ve done it ourselves.”
Jacobsen came to the 18th tee needing to make par to win the championship, and proceeded to hit a drive on the right side of the fairway, an approach shot to 25 feet. Left with a tricky right-to-left putt, Jacobsen missed the hole by a foot and tapped in for the win.
“Knowing I had to two-putt that was a scary putt,” Jacobsen said. “I knew two putts would win and that’s all I was thinking about.”
Jacobsen, who turned 50 in March, was playing in his first Senior Open and earned $470,000 for the win. The victory also marked Jacobsen’s first on the Champions Tour in three tries to go along with seven career wins on the PGA Tour. It was also his first win in a major tournament.
“The biggest reward of winning the U.S. Senior Open is the players that have won this before, Hale Irwin, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, are all players I have admired my whole career,” Jacobsen said. “I enjoy doing things in this game and now to top it off there’s nothing like playing and winning.”