Unknown Oakley wins Senior British

Updated: July 28, 2004, 1:31 PM ET
Associated Press

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- A week after another American journeyman won golf's oldest championship, club pro Peter Oakley completed an unlikely run at the Senior British Open.

Oakley, the pro at The Rookery in Rehoboth Beach, Del., who had to qualify for the tournament, claimed the Champions Tour major Sunday, beating Tom Kite, Eduardo Romero, Mark James for the biggest win of his career.

Oakley chipped out of a greenside bunker and rolled in an 10-foot par putt on the 18th at Royal Portrush for a one-stroke victory. He become the second surprising major winner in two weeks, joining Todd Hamilton, who beat Ernie Els in a playoff to win the British Open at Royal Troon.

"It still hasn't sunk in," said Oakley, who finished at 4-under 284, a stroke in front of Kite and Romero. "My life is changing right before my very eyes. I don't know what to think."

A club pro from Delaware who had little success on the PGA Tour, Oakley decided to join the European Senior tour last November as company for his older brother David.

He nearly didn't make it.

"In the final round of the European Senior tour qualifying this past November, if a sculled 8-iron had not hit the pin and gone in the hole ... I would not be here right now," he said.

"So I've very much blessed with good fortune."

Oakley won $295,000 -- almost 12 times his previous best, and earned a one-year exemption on the Champions Tour and a spot in next year's British Open at St. Andrews.

"That's some cash," he said. "Now I can get out of debt."

His career earnings entering the tournament totaled $54,309, with his biggest check being $14,801 after finishing tied for 35th at last year's U.S. Senior Open.

In eight previous Champions Tour tournaments, Oakley's best finishes came at the 1999 U.S. Senior Open and the 2002 Senior PGA Championship. He finished tied for 32nd at both.

After making it through qualifying for the championship, he carded a creditable 1-over 73 in the opening round and was four shots off the lead. He moved into contention with a second-round 68, and held a one-shot lead after three rounds after a 1-over 73.

The lead changed hands four times before Oakley held a three-stroke advantage with four holes to play Sunday.

His lead dropped to a stroke after he bogeyed No.16 and Kite, James and Romero birdied the 17th.

"I saw that I was 5 under on 16. I had a two shot lead with two to go, who could have wished for more?" he said. "Then, on 17, I saw that there was Kite and Romero were 3 under and I'm gulping like it's gone out of style."

After hitting his second shot at the 18th into a greenside bunker, a three-way playoff was a possibility.

But Oakley, despite being unable to see the flag, blasted to within 10 feet and made the title-winning putt.

"On 18, I hit a great bunker shot and I made the putt and that's how I putted all week. It was divine, the way I putted," Oakley said.

Kite closed with a 69, and Romero had 67 as the two tied for second at 285. James (70) finished fourth, another shot back.

Kite has not won a tournament for 21 months, finishing second six times.

Romero, playing his first senior tournament having turned 50 a week ago, says he will go back to the regular European Tour for a while but hopes to return to the senior circuit.

"The chance to play with players like Tom Kite and Mark James, old friends, I really enjoyed it," said Romero, who shared the lead after the opening round. "It's a different atmosphere to the regular tour."

Defending champion Tom Watson, who pulled out of last week's British Open because of a shoulder injury, shot a 74 to finish at 9 over for a share of 22nd place.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press