Bruce Crampton maintained his four-stroke margin Sunday to win the senior division of the Infiniti Tournament of Champions--but it wasn’t all that easy.
Before clinching $80,000, the biggest prize in his career, and setting a tournament record with a nine-under-par 279 at La Costa, there were anxious moments.
Beginning with the second hole, Frank Beard started applying the pressure. Beard had cut a four-shot lead to one and had a good chance to pull even on the 512-yard, par-five ninth hole. Crampton laid up and his wedge to the green spun back 18 feet below the hole. Beard’s second shot left him only 20 feet short of the green, and he chipped six feet inside of Crampton.
Crampton missed his birdie putt and the door was open. Beard’s putt missed on the right, and the back nine finished his hopes.
His play on the first five holes on the back nine had knocked Beard out of the lead Friday, and the back nine finished him Sunday.
He bogeyed 10, missing a two-footer, and did the same on 13, blowing a seven-foot putt. With Crampton making a birdie on 12, it was all over.
Over four rounds, Beard played holes 10-14 in five over par. Crampton played them in four under.
Crampton credited great sand play for giving him a one-under-par 71 on the final round. He had seven sand saves, twice almost holing out.
This was Crampton’s 15th Tournament of Champions, including his fifth in a row as a senior. When Miller Barber set the tournament senior record with 280 in 1989, Crampton was third. Last year he tied for second behind George Archer.
“I think maybe I won because I prepared more for it than anyone else. This tournament means a lot to me,” Crampton said. “It’s sort of like being the champion of champions, because to qualify you have to win a tournament.
“Hank Haney at Stonebridge Ranch Country Club, which is 25 miles north of Dallas, really worked me hard. He has been changing my swing. On Tuesday he said I was swinging the club as if I wanted the other players to out-drive me.
“I told him I was hitting the ball as hard as I could. He told me I had to be more aggressive. At first I couldn’t reach the fence (at the end of the practice tee). But by the time the tournament started I was hitting the ball on top of a truck beyond the fence.
“I may win more tournaments, but I’m swinging so hard I may be too tired to play in as many.”
Crampton explained that the facility at Stonebridge is unusual. It is a huge building which is air conditioned and also can be heated. You hit off mats to the fairway.
“It’s sort of like a huge house,” Crampton said. “They have video cameras to pick out your flaws, and everybody tries to help each other. It has been of great help to me. In that facility, it is never too hot or too cold to practice. One day it can be over a 100 and last month it was just one above. It didn’t matter.”
Beard, who has an unusual putting style, agreed that the missed putt on the ninth hole seemed to stop his momentum. Beard uses a mallet head putter with a 41-inch shaft. He putts with his hands well apart.
“I started putting that way in the first tournament last year,” Beard said. Statistically, he was the eighth-best putter on the senior tour.
“I’m not too sure why I had so much trouble from (holes) 10 to 14, but the greens are either new or have been redone. They don’t all have the same speed. When I start having to think whether this green is faster or slower than the previous one, I’m in trouble.
“Even though I had momentum and had moved to within a shot, it wasn’t realistic to think that I could overcome a four-shot deficit against anyone playing as well as Bruce is.
“Actually, though I always want to win, I’m not really disappointed with the way I played. Second in the first tournament of the year is pretty good.”
The best rounds of the final day were 69s shot by Archer and Hill, who tied for third, eight shots behind the winner.
The best shot of the day was probably that of Chi Chi Rodriguez out of a trap at No. 6. With a big crowd watching, Rodriguez, about 25 feet from the hole, took the flag out, and sank the shot. It helped Rodriguez rally from last place at the halfway point to a tie for fifth.