Stadler Shines in Victory


DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Craig Stadler had to wait out a two-hour weather delay to win his first Champions Tour title Sunday, as he captured the Senior Players Championship. He carded a 6-under 66 in the final round to earn a three-shot win at 17-under-par 271.
Stadler became the 14th player in history to make his first victory on the Champions Tour a major title and this win came in only Stadler's fourth start on the elder circuit.
'I wanted to win early,' said Stadler, who pocketed $375,000 for the win. 'I wanted to come out and just tell myself, and pretty much a lot of other people, that I can still play well consistently.'
A heavy storm came in at 5:20 PM (ET) Sunday and wiped out play with the final threesome on the 17th tee. The delay lasted almost two hours before the final three groups could complete the tournament.
Tom Kite matched the course record at the TPC of Michigan on Sunday when he fired a 9-under 63. He tied the record Jim Colbert established in 1995 and Hubert Green equaled last year.
Kite tied for second with overnight co-leader Tom Watson (69) and 2002 Tradition winner Jim Thorpe (65)). The trio completed 72 holes at 14-under-par 274.
'I knew what I had to do, to even have a chance to have a chance at this golf tournament,' said Kite, who began the round six shots behind the leaders. 'When I started off and parred the first four holes, it's like, all right, got to get something going here pretty soon.'
He fired a 6-under 30 on the back nine for his highest finish on the Champions Tour this season.
Stadler and Watson began the final round tied for the lead with Mike McCullough, who quickly fell off the pace with a bogey at the first. Stadler wedged his approach at one to eight feet and sank the putt to go one ahead of Watson, who parred the first.
Watson birdied the second to match Stadler in first but both players made a mess of the third hole. Stadler hit a horrible drive and a horrible approach when his third landed in a bunker. Watson reached a greenside bunker in two but played terribly in the bunker and holed an eight-foot putt for bogey as he left his ball in the trap several times.
The two were tied once again and both birdied five and six to remain atop the leaderboard. At the par-5 seventh, Stadler hit a 3-wood in a bunker with his second shot but blasted out to a foot for a tap-in birdie and one- shot lead.
Watson three-putted the eighth for a bogey and now Stadler found himself two shots ahead. Stadler extended his lead at the 10th when he hit a pitching- wedge to four feet to set up birdie.
The par-3 12th proved to be the hole that gave Stadler the title. He missed the green left but chipped in with a bump-and-run 9-iron. Watson bogeyed the hole and suddenly Stadler walked off the green with a five-shot edge over Watson, although Kite and Thorpe inched closer.
'If you want to look for a turning point, that was probably one of them,' said Stadler, referring to the 12th. 'No doubt. I make two and Tom makes four.'
At the 14th, Stadler and Watson both made birdie but it was too late for Watson.
'I had my opportunities,' said Watson, who finished second in his second consecutive major championship. 'Craig just outplayed me. He straight up outplayed me today.'
Kite was in the clubhouse when the horn sounded but Thorpe was in the midst of a great run. Thorpe collected four birdies in a five-hole span when play was stopped on his 18th.
'Seems like there's always something, always something to break the momentum,' Thorpe mumbled to the CBS camera as he headed to the clubhouse to wait out the rain delay.
After play resumed, Thorpe made par at 18 and Stadler made a conservative par at 17. Stadler drove right into the trees at the 18th and took a questionable choice back into the fairway that paid off. He knocked a wedge up to five feet and closed out the championship.
'You really can't imagine how fun it is to putt well for a couple days,' said Stadler, the 1982 Masters champion. 'It's just been so long and God, it's nice, it's wonderful. It's a really good feeling.'
McCullough carded a 1-over 73 to tie for fifth with Gil Morgan (69), Tom Jenkins (69) and Tom Purtzer (65). The group finished at 10-under-par 278.
Ed Dougherty and Dave Stockton shared ninth place at minus-8.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Ford Senior Players Championship
  • Ford Senior Players Championship Leaderboard