Dr. Dirt' At Top Of Dustup

By By Stuart Hall
July 28, 2008

Kohler, Wis. - Brad Bryant's name was low, but at least on the main scoring standard overlooking the 18th green when U.S. Senior Open final-round play commenced.

In Bryant's mind, his "very best round," as he said on Saturday, just might allow him to leapfrog the five names ahead of him. The most daunting was eight-time major champion Tom Watson, whose 54-hole lead was three strokes on the field and five on Bryant.

Sunday, Bryant didn't need his very best to win his first U.S. Senior Open.

Though his 4-under 68 around The Straits Course at Whistling Straits was the day's low round, those around him wilted in the parching heat and whipping winds just off Lake Michigan.

Bryant finished at 6-under 282, three strokes ahead of Ben Crenshaw at 3-under 285, four ahead of Loren Roberts at 2-under 286 and five ahead of Watson at 1-under 287.

"Gosh, dreams do come true," said the 52-year-old Bryant, who won a $470,000 first-place check. "Thirty-five years ago standing on a practice putting green I dreamed about hitting that putt and winning the U.S. Open as a kid.

"All you kids out there putting and thinking sometime it might be for the U.S. Open, today it was, and miracles happen.

Until early into Watson's inward nine, this was his championship to lose - and he did.

With an 18-foot birdie putt at the 361-yard, par-4 10th, Watson improved to nine under for the championship, three shots ahead of Bryant, who was making par three holes ahead, and four ahead of fellow competitor Roberts, who bogeyed the 10th.

"When I got to nine under, I said ‘Let's play the back nine like I played it yesterday [in 2-under 34]."

Watson would, however, play the next four holes in four over, his fourth legitimate bid to win his first U.S. Senior Open being whisked away with the wind. When Bryant rolled in a birdie putt at the 16th, he owned a 1-shot lead over both Watson and Roberts and never trailed thereafter.

"I just didn't have it on the back nine. I just put the ball in trouble way too many times to have a chance to win this golf tournament," said Watson, who hit only one fairway and two greens in regulation on his inward nine of 43.

"I had it in my grasp," added Watson. "I had the reins. I lost the reins after 13."

Bryant said he was unaware of what was transpiring behind him as Watson finished with a 76, Roberts a 74, John Ross a 79, Sam Torrance a 75 and Vincente Fernandez a 77.

"I know that when I made birdie at nine and got to four under, I felt like I had a chance to win, because my goal for the day was 66," said Bryant, who unofficially retired from the PGA Tour for five years before joining the Champions Tour in 2005. "I felt like if I shot 66, I would be in a playoff. And the conditions just deteriorated on the back nine. It got really nasty out there."

So much so that even Crenshaw, who began the day off the scoring standard at one under for the championship and tied for 12th, vaulted to his best finish in his six-year Champions Tour career. Crenshaw closed with a 2-under 70.

"I really only looked at the leaderboard one time and I saw that Tom Watson was nine under, and I was way far back at that time," Crenshaw said. "So I didn't give it much thought. Because my hands were still full playing the course."

Bryant, known as Dr. Dirt for his many years of grinding to improve his game, closed with an even-par 36 on the final nine. And when caddie Tony Smith told Bryant he held a three-stroke lead while standing in the middle of the 18th fairway, Bryant was nearly in a state of shock.

"I'm a journeyman that happened to have a really great week here," he said. "I can't tell you what it means to me. To have my name on the trophy is something more special than I can tell any of you at the moment."

Stuart Hall is a writer for the Golf Press Association whose work has appeared previously on www.ussenioropen.com.

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