AVONDALE, La. — Jerry Kelly took the umbrella from the parade marshal, donned his tasseled sash and danced his way off the 18th as the brass band played an exuberant Dixieland tune.
After enduring a seven-year winless streak, a determined charge by half-dozen young golfers, and a pair of bogeys that dropped him out of the lead, Kelly’s one-stroke victory in the Zurich Classic on Sunday was plenty of reason to celebrate.
“It’s been a long time,” said Kelly, who was showered with Mardi Gras beads by fans and presented with a large tray of char-broiled oysters by his favorite New Orleans restaurant. “I sometimes doubted if it was ever going to happen again.”
Kelly rallied with two birdies on the back nine to claim the $1.1 million payday on Sunday.
Kelly offset bogeys on No. 8 and No. 10 with birdies on Nos. 5, 11 and 14 for a 1-under 71 in the final round. He finished with a 274, one stroke ahead of three players.
It was the 42-year-old Wisconsin player’s first PGA Tour title since he won two in 2002 – exactly 200 starts ago.
Charles Howell took advantage of Kelly’s mid-round stumble with one of his six birdies on 11, which gave him a two-stroke lead. But bogeys at 15 and 17 left him with a 68 on the day, and he tied for second with Rory Sabbatini (67) and Charlie Wi (68).
“It’s frustrating,” said Howell. “I got up to 15, and had every chance to do it. I just couldn’t finish it off.”
Kelly, an admitted leaderboard watcher, said seeing Howell take a two-stroke lead on No. 11 did not cause him to doubt himself.
“I knew what the back side had been doing to everybody all week,” Kelly said. “And I had actually been playing the back side better,”
Steve Marino, playing with Kelly, stayed within one shot until the 18th. Instead of getting the victory or forcing a playoff, he hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker and then needed two putts. He put up his third bogey and finished at 70, tied for fifth at 276.
“I thought I hit a great third shot in there, and it just came off like half a club short in that bunker,” Marino said. “And that was it.”
Kelly, meanwhile, calmly rolled his final putt about 2 1/2 feet for his 13th par on the day and the championship. Despite the seven-year title drought, Kelly said he really didn’t have trouble with his nerves until his final putt on 18. He said practicing deep-breathing techniques settled him down.
His first title since claiming the Sony Open and Advil Western Open in 2002 provided Kelly with his biggest payday ever. The winning purse moved Kelly from No. 97 to No. 14 on the money list with $1.4 million. It also earns him full exempt status through 2011.
And it netted him 500 FedExCup points, moving him to 17th in the standings.
David Toms, who won this tournament in 2001, had five birdies for a 68 on the day after a bogey on the first hole. His 276 not only tied him with Marino, it boosted him in the FedExCup standings and into the Players Championship.