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,"
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
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
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.