IT’S becoming a theme. First Stacy Lewis confirmed her love affair with St Andrews when following up her Curtis Cup heroics by being crowned Ricoh Women’s British Open champion. Now Santiago Luna has done something similar.
Fifteen years after the home of golf was the scene of a memorable win over Tiger Woods in the old Dunhill Cup, the Spaniard is celebrating the sweet taste of victory again in the Fife town.
At the end of an exciting final day, the 50-year-old from Madrid claimed the title in the SSE Scottish Seniors Open, signing off with a one-under-par 71 at Fairmont St Andrews for a five-under-par total of 211 and a one-shot success over home favourite Sam Torrance (70) and Irishman Denis O’Sullivan (72).
Playing over the course he designed, Torrance, the winner at Dalmahoy in 2006, made a valiant attempt to hand himself the perfect early 60th birthday present but, in the end, fell agonisingly short as Luna returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since landing the 1995 Madeira Island Open – his sole success on the European Tour.
“It’s been such a long time that I think my winner’s speech is going to be difficult,” admitted Luna, who beat Woods in the semi-final of the Dunhill Cup as part of a Spanish side with Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez that then lost to South Africa in the title decider on the Old Course.
“They are different stories,” added the new champion when asked how his latest career highlight in St Andrews compared to claiming such a notable scalp.
“Obviously, beating Tiger was good as he would probably beat me 89 out of 90 times, but the most important thing was it was a point that helped Jose, Miguel and myself reach the final.”
On a day when a strong westerly wind made scoring difficult – two-times winner Barry Lane was the only player to break 70 – Torrance displayed grit and determination in his brave bid to sign off his fifties (he turns 60 later this week) on a winning note.
He rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt at the 14th to hang on to Luna’s coat-tails, undid that good work by three-putting the 16th from close to the back edge then produced a great up and down from close to the wall at the 17th – the signature hole on a course that is looking better than ever and, according to Torrance and his fellow competitors, in a condition to match.
“I need a birdie but not that one,” joked the popular Scot as his drive at the last sent a seagull scurrying across the middle of the fairway, from where he was surprised to see a sweetly-struck 5-iron second shot come up short at the par 5.
“I was excited when it was in the air as it was dead on line,” he added. He initially thought about using his broom-handled putter for the eagle attempt. “But I said to myself, ‘you’re a good chipper so play the bloody shot’,” he reported of an effort that almost went in but rolled eight feet past.
The putter did its job with the next one but Luna, playing two groups behind, had moved to five-under with a birdie at the 16th – and two pars to finish carried him over the line.
“I played magnificent today,” declared Torrance, who seems to have been galvanised by his appointment as Great Britain & Ireland captain for the Seve Trophy in October.
“Using a long putter in windy conditions like today is a nightmare and I had 33 or 34 putts. But I’m delighted with my performance and it’s a case of ‘thanks dad’,” he said of the pre-event tip given to him by Bob, his lifelong coach.
As overnight leader Peter Fowler fell away – the Australian eventually finished in a tie for fourth – Luna found himself tied with Irish duo O’Sullivan and Philip Walton (the 1995 Ryder Cup hero collapsed late on to eventually finish joint-19th) with six holes to play before delivering the telling moment with that birdie at the 16th, where he hit a sand wedge to eight feet.
“I love Scotland and I love St Andrews, so this is a special moment for me,” he admitted. “It is really tough for me to play in the wind. We don’t have conditions like these in Madrid and I usually stay at home when it is like this.
“I felt as though I had lost my generation over the last few years on the European Tour.
“I had nothing really to say to players but now I feel I am back with my friends,” he said after being clapped on to the final green by compatriot Miguel Angel Martin after he’d finished in the group ahead.
O’Sullivan, bidding to become the second oldest winner on the Senior Tour at the age of 65, produced a brilliant up and down from short right of the last green to deny Torrance finishing second on his own.
All in all, though, it’s been quite a week for the 2002 Ryder Cup-winning captain and, on this evidence, there’s every chance of “play it again Sam” being a line we can expect to hear when he returns to action again in his 60s.