The first Senior Open at St Andrews needed a quality winner, and the universally-admired Miguel Angel Jimenez obliged as he held off Bernhard Langer for the title on the Old Course.
With a three-shot lead entering the final stretch, the colourful and popular “Mechanic” seemed to have the title and honour of being the first Spaniard to take the trophy in the bag. In the end it needed a nerveless 10-foot par putt on 17, just as Langer was playing an over-cooked approach to the final green, to finally close the door on the German.
That allowed the 54-year-old, who belatedly won his first Senior major earlier this year at the Regions Tradition event in May, to enjoy the acclaim of the crowds going up 18 on his way to a routine par to complete a three-under 69 and win by a shot with a 12-under-par aggregate of 276.
Langer finished third, with Americans Kirk Triplett, Scott McCarron and Canada’s Stephen Ames sharing third.
Jimenez had lost the Senior Open once before from a winning position, two years ago at Carnoustie, and was nervy of doing the same again.
“Yeah, I made it hard for myself,” he said. “I’m hitting very solid all the time and then get to 14 with a three-shot lead and my ball just on the green, and then miss a very short putt for birdie.
“On the next hole, left the first putt a little bit short and then I had a 4-footer and missed the hole again. My heart starts pounding very fast now.”
But he was able to hold it together when it mattered.
“It’s amazing, obviously to win at St. Andrews, the Home of Golf, it’s a place that many people want to win,” he added. “For me, Seve played well (here ) in the Open, and so it’s amazing to be here in this place with all these things, and my name is now part of history.”
The leaders set out on the final round in possibly the worst weather of the week, cool temperatures dropping below 15 degrees, driving rain and gusting winds, but first Langer and then Jimenez behind him birdied the first hole.
The German, bidding for a record fourth Senior Open crown, made his early statement of intent with four birdies in the first six holes, but after that the German couldn’t force any more around The Loop just when he might have been expected to make his challenge.
Jimenez never lost the lead outright, adding to his opening birdie with another at the long sixth, and was tied with Langer and Kirk Triplett, the first round and halfway leader as he turned for home.
A birdie at the ninth – oddly, none of the other main contenders could match that on what is usually one of the Old Course’ easiest holes – and then a crucial three at the short par four 12th opened up a two-shot advantage for the Spaniard.
That birdie on 12 proved a pivotal moment as up ahead both Langer and Triplett were struggling on the 13th, and both dropped shots to leave Jimenez three ahead.
Langer knew he needed to birdie 14 to put the pressure back on his old parring partner, but he three-putted there although a magnificent approach to 15 to four feet produced a birdie to cut the lead back to two.
Pressure came back on Jimenez with a poor drive at 15, an approach that was short and three putts for bogey to cut his lead to one, but he made a solid par on 16 and up ahead Langer had a chance for a rare birdie at 17 but missed the 14-foot chance.
Jimenez’ drive at 17 was dangerously right and in the rough, and his second shot avoided the Road Hole bunker and the road itself but went over the green on to the 18th tee. His 50 foot putt from there was 10 feet short, but he didn’t flinch over the par putt to stay one ahead.
At the same time Langer was too strong with his approach to the 18th and his only hope was that Jimenez would get tangled up in the Valley of Sin, but that was never likely. Two putts from 20 feet was enough to secure him victory, and allow him to light his formidably large victory cigar.
“I was 4-under after six and I hit it to about four feet or five feet on seven and missed that putt,” recalled Langer. “That kind of shocked me a little bit because I was putting great up until that point.
“If I had made one more birdie somewhere, I would have been right there. But Miguel played an awesome four days of golf, and he’s a very well-deserved winner.”
Spectator numbers were decent if not huge for the final day, the break in the glorious weather of the last few weeks probably keeping numbers down, but the wisdom of having the Open and the Senior Open so close together on both the calendar and the map was always questionable.
Some have no doubt that the Senior Open should be back at St Andrews, not just regularly or on the accepted five-yearly schedule of The Open, but even more than that.
Colin Montgomerie, who shot a final round 74 as he lost touch with the leaders over the weekend, desperately wants another go on the Old Course.
“If they wait as long then this will be my last time,” he said. “I think it should be here every five years at least. If The Links Trust allow us to close the course for a week in prime time.
“It’s a shame the crowds were light today because of the weather. But this felt like a major. It should be here every bloody year.”