History has a way of softening even the most jagged competitive edge. Consider Mark McNulty’s quest for his first tour victory on U.S. soil Feb. 22 at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.
The affable Champions Tour rookie began the final round with a one-stroke lead and was 1 under through eight holes and cruising when he glanced at the leaderboard to see Fuzzy Zoeller’s card dotted with birdies.
Zoeller, who began the final 18 holes in the middle of the pack at 1 under, had birdied seven of his first nine holes for an outward 28.
“In the end I was a little sad he didn’t shoot 59,” said McNulty, who shot a final-round 68 for a 13-under-par 200 total and one-stroke victory over Larry Nelson (68). “It worked out best for me but that would have been something.”
Zoeller added birdies at Nos. 10 (his seventh consecutive), 12, 13 and 14 to get to 11 under for the day but struggled the rest of the way. Pars at the 15th, 16th and 17th were followed by a bogey at the 18th,
his first miscue in 20 holes, for a closing 61.
“Shooting 61 means a lot,” said Zoeller, who tied for third, two shots back of McNulty, for his second top-5 finish in four starts this season. “There’s a lot of proving going on when you’re out here, and that proves I can still compete at a high level.”
No player in Champions Tour history has shot 59 in a competitive round and only four have carded 60s (Walter Morgan, Isao Aoki, Bruce Fleisher and Jim Thorpe). Zoeller’s round tied the TPC of Tampa Bay record held by Rocky Thompson (1994) and was the best of the two-time major championship winner’s career.
Of Zoeller’s 11 final-round birdies, only one came on a putt of more than 10 feet – 20-footer at the par-4 ninth.
“Shooting 61 ranks pretty high in my career,” said Zoeller, who hit all 14 fairways and needed just 25 putts in Round 3. “I really wasn’t thinking 59. I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could.”
McNulty, who had won 55 times around the world but never in the United States, said he was aware of what Zoeller was doing eight groups ahead but he didn’t get caught up in the excitement.
“He was a good six, seven holes ahead of me and one or two shots at that stage aren’t critical because you know you can play well and make that up,” McNulty said.