Originally created 06/30/03

Lietzke hangs on to capture U.S. Senior Open over Watson

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Bruce Lietzke began the day with a four-shot lead and played efficient, if unspectacular, golf to hold off Tom Watson and win the U.S. Senior Open on Sunday.

Lietzke's final-round 2-over-par 73 was a far cry from his round of 64 Saturday but it was enough to give him his first major championship in 53 tries. He finished with a 7-under 277, two shots better than Watson, who had an even-par final round.

After putting out for a bogey on the closing hole, Lietzke was hugged by his wife, Rose, who had flown up Sunday morning from the family's home in Dallas. Lietzke collected $470,000 for the win.

Argentina's Vicente Fernandez, who shot a 64 in the second round, was one shot behind Watson in third at 280.

They were the only golfers in the 156-player tournament to finish below par.

Watson, the first-round leader after a 65, never made a serious charge as he and Lietzke eyed each other in the same pairing. Lietzke all but ended any chance for Watson when he rolled in a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 eighth hole to expand his lead to six shots.

Lietzke, 51, won for the seventh time since joining the senior circuit in 2001. He had 13 wins on the PGA Tour. He tied for third behind John Jacobs earlier this year at the Senior PGA Championship, the tour's first major of the year.

In 52 previous starts in major championships - five as a senior and the rest while on the PGA Tour - Lietzke's best finish was a second to John Daly at the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick. His best previous finish in an Open was a tie for 17th at Merion in 1981.

Almost everyone in the field said that the only way to win at Inverness Club was to keep the ball in the fairway to have a shot at hitting the tiny Donald Ross-designed greens.

Almost everyone was wrong. Lietzke, known as one of the longest drivers on tour, hit just seven of a possible 15 fairways Saturday to take the lead and then managed to find the short grass on only five fairways Sunday.

After Watson had drawn within three shots with three holes remaining, Lietzke picked up a birdie at No. 16 - again after hitting his approach out of the thick steel-wool rough short of the green.

That made Lietzke's bogeys on the final two holes meaningless.

Watson was the gallery's favorite, in large part because of caddie Bruce Edwards' struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease. As Watson and Edwards trudged the course in the same grouping with Lietzke, there were shouts of "Go Bruce!" It was difficult to tell which Bruce was being encouraged.

Lietzke lamented the fact before the tournament that he couldn't hit his driver very often on the tight fairways. As it turned out, he didn't need it. It was his short game and iron play that were the difference, as is usually the case in an Open.

After bogeying the first hole from a fairway bunker, Lietzke salvaged par from a green-side trap at No. 2 by blasting to a few inches from the cup.

Watson gave back the shot he gained at No. 1 when he three-putted the fourth hole. In between shots in the fairway and before teeing off, Watson pulled out his putter and practiced his stroke. The extra work didn't produce better results.

He missed an 8-footer for birdie at No. 5 - his third miss from inside 20 feet on the first five holes - before missing a 6 1/2 -footer for birdie at No. 8.

It was at the 554-yard eighth that Lietzke took control. Both players hit driver on the longest hole on the course. Lietzke's high fade ended up a few feet in front of Watson's ball, and both players were more than 360 yards off the tee.

Watson hit first and found the bunker short and left of the green, but Lietzke's approach landed on the green and rolled just past the pin, ending up about 7 feet away. Lietzke pulled out his long putter and drained the eagle putt. Watson then missed his birdie putt as the lead jumped to six strokes.

The rest was academic, with no one challenging from back in the pack and Watson unable to make putts as he had in the opening round at the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields two weeks ago, and again in Thursday's first round.

Fuzzy Zoeller (73) and Allen Doyle (70) tied for fourth at 1-over 285.


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