When Miller Barber hit his second shot over the green on the first hole Sunday at The Vintage Club, he was thinking, “Here we go again.”
But Barber, who had a triple bogey on the hole Saturday to almost knock himself out of contention, saved par and went on to win the $370,000 Vintage Chrysler Invitational in a spirited battle.
Barber, who shot a three-under-par 69 on the final round, took the lead for good with a birdie on the 15th and held on to win the 72-hole event with a seven-under-par 281.
He finished just one stroke in front of Larry Mowry, Don Bies and Bob Charles, all of whom had several near misses in the final round. Mowry and Bies also finished with 69s, Charles with a 70.
In near-perfect weather, Barber and the three challengers broke away from the field on the back nine to wage a hot fight down the stretch.
Going into the final round, Barber, Charles and Gene Littler were tied at four under. Mowry, Bies and J.C. Goosie were tied at three under. After one hole Sunday, there were six players tied for the lead. Mowry, Bies and Goosie, playing in the threesome ahead of the leaders, all birdied No. 1.
“The key to the victory was the par putt on 17,” said Barber, who won his 26th tournament on the Senior Tour. “It was a five-footer and when it dropped I thought my chances were good.”
The younger players on the 50- and-older circuit sometimes refer to Barber, who turns 58 on March 31, as the Old Codger. He keeps telling them he’s getting too old and will turn it over to them soon. He became the first golfer to pass $2 million on the Senior Tour.
Barber was one shot behind Charles going into Saturday’s round. But he hit his drive out of bounds on No. 1 and the seven on the par-4 hole, coupled with a birdie for Charles, was a four-shot shift. How did he feel at that point?
“Like throwing up,” he said. “I told myself to just keep trying. It worked and today, when nobody ran a string of birdies, I just kept plugging and won. Except for the first hole I hit good shots in the right places.
“This was a different course from last year when the greens were soft and fast. Probably because of so much cold weather, the greens were slow and really hard in some spots. That’s the reason the scores were so much better a year ago.”
Orville Moody, who shot a record 25-under-par in winning here last spring, had a last-round 73 Sunday and finished with an even-par 288.
He wasn’t at all happy about the greens. On the first hole his second shot landed on the front of the green, shot up the hill and carried into the high grass above the green.
“How do they expect you to play this course when you don’t even know if they (the greens) were watered,” he muttered.
There were a lot of could have beens for Charles, Bies and Mowry. Charles just missed birdie putts on 17 and 18, but his best chance to force a playoff was on the par-five 15th. His third shot, which he made from under a tree that hampered his backswing, hit the flag, appeared to go into the hole, then popped out.
Among other close misses for Bies was a 15-footer on the 13th that rimmed the cup, seemed to be ready to drop in and suddenly came back out.
Mowry probably had as many good chances to win as anybody. On the 18th, his eagle putt that would have put him seven-under, was just short. Instead of worrying about what might have been, Mowry was ecstatic.
“I feel I stole something in this tournament,” he said. “I really didn’t hit the ball well all week. Only my putting kept me in the hunt. I was pulling almost everything. But on my drive on the last hole, I discovered what I was doing wrong on my swing. So, with 260 yards to reach the green, I decided to go for it. I hit the best three-wood of my life and had an 18-foot try for the eagle.
“But the gods who had been taking care of my putts all week deserted me on the last few holes. They said, ‘You’re on your own now fellow.’ I feel so good about finding my problem I’m ready for Phoenix (the next stop) right now.”
Mowry, who won the Senior PGA this winter, is second on the money list with more than $104,000.
The leader is Barber with $170,055. He has entered five tournaments and his worst finish was eighth. He won the Tournament of Champions at La Costa and had a second and a third.
Littler, the winner last week in Naples, Fla., shot a 77 Sunday to finish at 288.
The best round of the day was a 67 by Butch Baird, who was out of contention and finished at 292.
Al Geiberger birdied the first hole to get within four shots of the lead after an opening round of 80, but didn’t make a move after that.