James hangs on for first major win

Mark James lost the three-stroke lead he entered Sunday with, but held on to win his first major.

Updated: July 13, 2004, 1:01 PM ET
Associated Press

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Mark James thought he would have to put together a solid round to win the Senior Players Championship.

He found out just surviving was good enough.

The former European Ryder Cup captain shot a 1-over 73 to hold off Spain's Jose Maria Canizares by a stroke Sunday. The Englishmen finished at 13-under 275 to become the first European player to win a Champions Tour major.

While James was getting ready to play, he heard from other players that the sun-baked TPC of Michigan was playing much tougher than it had the first three days.

"I was aware that nobody was having an easy time," he said. "People shooting even par in the middle of the field were moving up. It was obviously difficult."

Canizares proved that as much as any other player.

He had double bogeys at Nos. 14 and 17 in a 71.

Andy Bean's 68 was the only round in the 60s Sunday, two days after 25 players had sub-70 rounds.

"The course started off as a friendly little fellow and turned into a ruthless menace," James said.

Bruce Fleisher (71) finished third at 11 under, and Bruce Lietzke (71) was fourth, another stroke back.

Gary McCord (74) and Dana Quigley (72) tied for fifth at 9 under. Quigley played in the 250th consecutive event he has been eligible for since 1997, and 235th in a row overall.

"You couldn't shoot at the flags, because the greens were so dead," McCord said. "You had to make 20-footers, and I couldn't."

Just four years ago, James wasn't sure he would be able to play golf again.

The Englishman was so ill he could barely eat and was losing weight rapidly, then was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He has the first of two operations in October of 2000, and it took nearly two years for him to feel well again.

"It's been a dream, really," said James

James became the sixth player -- and third straight -- to make the Players Championship his first Champions Tour victory.

He played in seven Ryder Cups from 1977-95, was Europe's captain in 1999 at Brookline, and won 22 tournaments overseas. His last victory was in the 1997 Peugeot Open De Espana.

"This is the biggest win of my career, without question," he said. "To win a major, it's incredible."

James opened with three strong rounds -- a 68 and two 67s -- and played just well enough to win the over-50 circuit's second major of the season and first of three straight.

"I don't know where such good golf came from, but I certainly enjoyed it," he said.

James started the final round with a three-stroke lead, the largest going into Sunday in the tournament since 1999, and was ahead by at least two shots until he bogeyed No. 9 to fall to 14 under.

That allowed Canizares to pull within a stroke. Moments later, he birdied No. 10 to move into a tie for the lead.

James, playing just behind Canizares in the final group, moved back into the lead with a birdie at No. 10. At the 13th, Canizares again tied it with a birdie, but made a double bogey on the next hole.

James squandered a two-shot cushion with a bogey on the 14th.

After Canizares birdied 16 to again pull even, James bogeyed the same hole to drop out of the lead and fall to 13 under.

Canizares tried to play safe on the 17th, but still found the water. He ended up with a double bogey, his second in four holes, and fell one shot back at 12 under.

"Coming down 13 to 16, I felt very insecure," James said. "At about 17 or 18, I maybe relaxed a bit."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press