2005: Senior Open - Doyle’s dandy 63 a major feat

Kettering, Ohio

Some milestones in sports reach a little higher than others. Of Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hitters, his fifth, against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, broke Sandy Koufax’s major league record for career no-hitters and likely stands apart. If you asked Michael Jordan which of his 40-point plus games he cherishes the most, his 45-point effort vs. Utah in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals probably ranks high on his list.

Similarly, Allen Doyle’s 8-under 63 at the U.S. Senior Open is one of seven 63s recorded in Open championship history. But if you’re keeping score, Doyle’s came in a pressure-packed final round, which ranks it somewhere just south of Johnny Miller’s 63 on the final day at the ’73 U.S. Open.

Just ask Miller.

“It’s 10 times harder to shoot a 63 in the final round to win than any other time,” said Miller, who watched Doyle’s historic round from the NBC booth adjacent to the 18th fairway on NCR Country Club’s South Course. “Anybody can shoot a 63 in the first, second or third round, but to do it to win by one . . . greatest round in senior tour history.”

Doyle’s eight-birdie, no-bogey performance propelled him to a 10-under 274 total, past a sputtering pack of high-profile contenders and into the winner’s circle July 31. Beyond the historic accolades, however, his Senior Open victory may have finally earned the former driving range operator the respect he deserves.

“No one (in the media) said a word to me this week. No one thought I had a chance. And that’s the way it’s been from Day 1,” said Doyle, who began the final round nine shots behind Craig Stadler and Loren Roberts.

In the media’s defense, the last time someone rallied from that far back at a major, a Frenchman was standing knee-deep in the burn at Carnoustie.

Besides, through 44 holes Saturday Doyle was languishing at 3 under after back-to-back bogeys. That’s when his tournament turned. Nearly 60 feet from the hole at the par-4 ninth, Doyle rolled in the par saver, preventing a third consecutive bogey, salvaging his round and giving him the opportunity to make history the next day. His nine-stroke, come-from-behind victory was just one short of Paul Lawrie’s 10-stroke recovery at the ’99 British Open.

“We were going a little sideways on the front nine and then we hit this bomb. That was a real nice momentum lift,” said Doyle’s caddie, Robert Dean.

Doyle’s game doesn’t overpower anyone. For the week, he ranked toward the bottom of the pack in driving distance (53rd), and if not for a Boss of the Moss-like 25 putts in his final round, his performance on the South Course’s greens would have been equally pedestrian.

No swing analysis needed. There’s more Benny Hill than Benny Hogan in that swing.

“Well, if you look up and down the Champions Tour practice tee, you’ll see a variety of swings. It’s a little more homemade on this tour,” said D.A. Weibring, who tied Roberts for second place at 9 under. “Allen certainly has a homemade swing, but it repeats.”

On Sunday at NCR, Doyle’s swing repeated like a piston engine. Think Jim Furyk with more midsection and less backswing. Doyle missed only three fairways and three greens all day and the closest he came to a bogey was a 4-foot putt for par at the 13th and another 4-footer at the treacherous 16th.

Doyle, who turned 57 the Tuesday before the Senior Open, also solidified his spot among the senior circuit’s best ever. The victory at NCR was the 10th career title for the 2001 Player of the Year, and he now ranks No. 7 in all-time Champions Tour money with $11,012,219.

The truth is, the former Walker Cupper is often overlooked as a contender and as a personality. Three years ago, frequent practice partners Doyle, Dana Quigley and Jim Thorpe held an informal straw poll: Who has the worst swing?

“We were grabbing guys and said, ‘Be honest, who has the worst swing between the three of us?’ ” said Doyle. “I think I had more votes than the other two, but we all got votes.”

At least a half dozen players with more fluid swings and more name recognition had a chance to secure the Francis Ouimet Trophy. One by one they disappeared like a wayward drive ducking into the 31⁄2-inch bluegrass rough.

Stadler, who held at least a share of the lead for three days, quickly broke away Sunday with birdies at Nos. 3, 5 and 6 and moved to 13 under. The Walrus was washed away, however, with four bogeys and two double bogeys over his next 11 holes. It was the second consecutive week Stadler’s major title hopes unraveled in the final round.

Roberts, playing only his second senior event, was his normal Boss self. He holed crucial putts from Cincinnati to Dayton for three days until his putter went cold in Round 4 and he needed 31 strokes on NCR’s greens on his way to a closing 73.

Still, it was a respectable week for a senior rookie who had to be rushed to a local hospital late Thursday to pass a kidney stone and spent the rest of the week bubble-headed from a severe head cold.

“I’ve been pretty good at putting bad things behind me in my career. So yeah, I feel positive about the way I played,” said Roberts, whose chance to tie Doyle from 30 feet at the 72nd hole slipped below the cup.

Weibring played the most Open-like final round. After starting the final 18 holes three shots back, he made a steady climb with three birdies and no bogeys through his first 16 holes. Missed fairways at Nos. 17 and 18, however, led to a pair of closing bogeys and he had to settle for his best finish in a major. Greg Norman finished fourth at 8 under.

“There was more gagging going on than any event I can remember,” Miller said. “Stadler fell apart. Roberts melted down in the bunkers. Weibring bogeyed the last couple of holes.”

This Senior Open was all about nicknames. The King, Arnold Palmer, stole the show earlier in the week as he played his final Open championship. Everybody with a pulse and a copy of the 54-hole leaderboard figured the final loop around NCR to be a duel between the Boss of the Moss and the Walrus with a generous dose of the Shark, who was making his senior debut in the United States, sprinkled in.

Sans an alter identity, Doyle outlasted them all. Maybe it’s time the New England native was given a nickname. Something like Unorthodox Allen, which is one of the more polite ways to describe his hunched-over, half-jab of a swing.

“That’s the beauty of this particular sport. It’s not so much form that’s important, but function. And we function,” Doyle said earlier this year of his atypical action. “When you get here, it’s too late to change anyway. If I can give anybody new out here any advice, it would be to play your own game.”

In Ohio, his game worked just fine.

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