PETER Senior became the oldest Australian Open winner ever as the 53-year-old triumphed by one stroke after overcoming severe weather conditions that forced a three-hour suspension because of gale-force winds.
The US Champions Tour regular shot an even-par 72 in the final round at The Lakes to set the record, finishing with a total of four-under 284 as he kept his composure while several other contenders struggled with the winds.
Fellow Australian Brendan Jones was second after a 71, while countryman Cameron Percy finished third after a 73, two strokes behind. Englishman Justin Rose finished in a tie for fourth after a 76, three strokes behind Senior.
“Winning the [Australian] PGA a couple of years ago up at Coolum was great, but I tell you what, nothing beats winning right here,” Senior said.
Senior had ten top-ten finishes on the Champions Tour this year, but no wins, which made yesterday’s victory – with his son Mitch caddying – all the more special.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Senior said. “We’ve had three years on the Champions Tour, where Mitch has caddied for me for the last two years, and we’ve lost three play-offs, so it feels unbelievable to win with him on the bag.”
The previous oldest Australian Open champion was five-time Open champion Peter Thomson, at the age of 43 in 1972. Senior won the Australian Open for the first time as a 30-year-old in 1989.
Yesterday, gusts of up to 80 kph (50 mph) during a southerly wind change caused one television tower to topple, balls to move on the fairways and greens, and sand to be blown from bunkers and into the galleries and fairways.
The gusty winds remained after play resumed, and third-round leader John Senden shot 82, second-round leader Marcus Fraser had an 81, and Adam Scott carded 76 to finish well off the pace. Joining them, defending champion Greg Chalmers and Geoff Ogilvy each shot 77s, but 1984 champion Tom Watson, lucky to have started early, shot a 69 before the storm hit to climb into a tie for 28th.
Meanwhile, Charl Schwartzel carded his third seven-under 65 of the tournament yesterday to wrap up a dominating victory at the Thailand Golf Championship, extending his already commanding lead to win by 11 shots.
Schwartzel led from the first round and never slowed down, finishing with a 25-under total of 263 at the Amata Spring Country Club for the South African’s first win since last year’s Masters. This year’s Masters winner, Bubba Watson, also shot a 65 to finish in a tie for distant second with Thai golfer Thitiphun Chuayprakong, who finished with a 70. Sergio Garcia of Spain (70) was fourth in the Asian Tour event, 12 shots back.
Schwartzel finished second here last year, when Lee Westwood was the runaway winner by seven shots. “It’s been a great week. We had a good time last year and obviously I came in second,” Schwartzel said. “I do know how the guys feel like, as I had that feeling last year when I lost to Lee by quite a margin. Overall it’s been a great week. I played some solid golf. I’m very happy.”
And he finally got to lift another trophy, following a drought since his victory at Augusta in 2011. “It’s always hard when you have won such a big tournament,” the South African said. “You go on a high and feel that you can win all the ones you play in. I came close a few times. Winning is not as easy as everyone makes it out to be. It’s been quite hard work and it’s been a difficult year, especially in the middle. It’s nice to put things in place and get the win that I’ve been looking for.”
After three inconsistent rounds, Bubba Watson made no mistake yesterday, making seven birdies in his first bogey-free outing of the tournament.
“I didn’t have my best stuff on Friday and Saturday. I made a lot of mistakes,” Watson said. “Schwartzel played pretty good and my best stuff probably wouldn’t be as good. It would have given me a chance to scare him, but I didn’t have my best in the previous two days. I had no bogeys, no mistakes, and somehow it came out to a seven-under.”