Watson nips Couples for Mitsubishi title
KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii – Tom Watson became the 13th oldest player to win on the Champions Tour on Sunday, birdieing the final two holes for one-stroke victory over senior newcomer Fred Couples in the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
The 60-year-old Watson, coming off a win with Jack Nicklaus in the Champions Skins at Kaanapali, closed with a 7-under 65 to finish at 22-under 194 for his 13th Champions Tour title and his first victory in 34 career starts in Hawaii on the two tours.
After driving into the right rough, Watson hit a spectacular second shot that rolled 20 feet on the 18th green and stopped 4 feet from the hole.
Couples, who closed with a bogey-free 64, just missed his 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Watson calmly sank the winner and waved his cap to the roaring crowd.
It was a sweet victory for Watson, who made a magical run last year at the British Open before losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
Again, Watson torched the back nine with five birdies. He had six birdies on each of the first two days.
Watson tied Couples for the lead on No. 17 by sinking a 6-foot birdie putt. Watson smiled in front of the biggest gallery to see the event in years with the sun setting over the Pacific.
Couples birdied the par-4 16th for a one-stroke lead over Watson at 21 under. After a big drive, he hit a wedge from 118 yards to 12 feet.
Couples was trying to become the 16th player to win his Champions Tour debut.
The 15-time PGA Tour winner hasn’t hoisted a trophy since the 2003 Shell Houston Open. Last year, he had four top-10 finishes in 16 starts on the regular tour and finished 75th on the money list.
Couples took his first lead by eagling the 566-yard 10th to reach 18 under. He hit an iron from the first cut of rough, setting up his 6-foot putt.
Watson, who birdied the 10th, shook his right fist after holing a 22-foot birdie putt on the par-4 11th that tied Couples for the lead.
While the fans came to see Couples, Watson may have had a slight homefield advantage.
Watson purchased one of the sprawling homes at Hualalai about a year ago. He was also teammates with the course designer, Nicklaus, a week ago at the Skins Game. They finished with 10 skins and $350,000 for their second victory in four years.
Michael Allen birdied the final hole for a 66 to finish third at 18 under, a stroke ahead of Tom Lehman (68). Both men played last week in the PGA Tour’s Sony Open, with Lehman tying for 16th and Allen tying for 25th.
The 64-year-old Irwin, a two-time champion at Hualalai, closed with a 64 to finish fifth at 14 under. It was his second top-10 finish in a row after going 41 straight tournaments without one.