'There's a lot of pressure on you when you haven't won in 24 years,' said Pate, who pocketed $240,000 for the victory. 'You put pressure on yourself. It's really hard to describe.'
Pate burst on to the golf scene with a win at the 1976 U.S. Open. His last title came at The Players Championship in 1982 when he famously jumped in the lake off the 18th green at the TPC at Sawgrass with then PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman and course architect Pete Dye.
Since that swim, Pate has battled shoulder injuries that required four surgeries. He found interests outside the golf course, but ultimately came back to golf in 2004, several months after he turned 50.
Pate's win on Sunday was dramatic, as he birdied the 18th hole to shoot a 5-under 66 and win the title at 11-under-par 202.
Hale Irwin, who hoisted the trophy in 2005, needed a birdie at the last to tie, but his 50-footer missed right. He posted a 3-under 68 and tied for second place with fellow second-round leader Mark James (68) and Morris Hatalsky (64). The trio came in at minus-10.
Pate was 3 under par on his round after a birdie at the par-5 12th. He tied for the lead at 10 under par with a 2-foot birdie putt at the next par five, No. 14.
James birdied 15 and 16 to move to 11 under par and take the lead. Irwin kicked in a short eagle putt at 12, then rolled in a 3-foot birdie putt at 14 to get to minus-11.
The par-3 17th became the downfall for both James and Irwin. James, playing in the group ahead of Irwin with Pate, knocked his tee ball to 35 feet, but his uphill putt came up 10 feet short. James, the 1999 European Ryder Cup captain, missed that putt to fall back to minus-10.
Irwin pushed his tee shot into the bunker on the right side. He tried to be too delicate with his blast from the sand and the ball stopped 20 feet shy of the flag. The three-time U.S. Open winner narrowly missed the par putt, but fell into a four-way tie for first.
James was only able to save par at 18 thanks to a poor drive, but Pate hammered his tee ball down the fairway. He hit a 5-iron just inside 11 feet and sank the birdie putt.
Irwin still had a chance to catch Pate, but his chances were diminished when his drive found an awkward lie in the left first cut. Irwin chased his second on to the putting surface, but left himself with 50-plus feet to force a playoff. His putt just moved right, thus ending Pate's winless drought.
'I didn't know. I tried to hit my best shot,' said Pate, referring to his 5-iron at 18, which was the same club he hit at 18 that sealed his Players Championship victory.'
Loren Roberts' bid to win four consecutive events to start the season was thwarted by a final-round, 2-under 69. He tied for fifth place with Tom Kite (68), Leonard Thompson (68), Des Smyth (69) and two-time former champion Bruce Fleisher (70). That group came in at 6-under-par 207.
Mark McNulty, who shared the lead after the first two rounds, struggled on Sunday. He only managed a 2-over 73 and shared 10th place with Dan Pohl (67) and David Eger (69) at minus-5.