No one could have predicted Allen Doyle.
The hockey player kid who perfected his "half-swing" golf follow-through during the offseason under a 7-foot basement ceiling, the same place he toiled hitting slapshots against the wall and listened to his mother complain?
The established lifelong amateur who made a living operating a family-run driving range in La Grange, Ga.? The guy who turned professional at age 47 to see if he was good enough, if he could handle the rigors of playing at an elevated level?
The guy who said, "No one thought I had a chance?"
Doyle won the Senior Open Sunday on NCR's South Course, his third major, by shooting a lights-out 8-under 63 to outlast Loren Roberts and D.A. Weibring by a stroke. He finished 10-under 274 for the championship. He played bogey-free, igniting the round with a 15-foot chip-in on the first hole, leading to the first of eight birdies and 10 pars. He took just 25 putts.
The championship belied the expectation of someone in the final round making the last putt and walking away with the trophy.
Doyle won because he was the only one who solved the riddle that identifies the best player. He won because the leaders down the stretch, one by one, fell harmlessly by the wayside like paper cups in a tornado. If the field were the weightless objects, Doyle was the storm. The others he left in his wake must have made them wondering what hit them.
First, third round co-leader Craig Stadler inexplicably destructed. After the completion of the eighth hole, he had what appeared to be an insurmountable three-stroke advantage on Roberts until an ill-fated double bogey struck on No. 9. Over his final 10 holes, Stadler played out at 7 over. To add insult to injury, he left too many putts short. The frustration boiled over on the ninth green when he three-putted, tossing his putter 10 feet toward caddie Jeff Dole.
"I've never done it like this before," said Stadler, 5-over 76 Sunday, adding that he had "no clue on the greens."
Weibring, holding a one shot lead on Doyle, bogeyed his final two holes to topple out of a chance at a playoff. On No. 18, he drove the ball into the right rough, hit pitching wedge thin 100-plus yards and the ball dropped into the back fringe rough. He chipped onto the up-sloped green, the ball releasing and stopping 10 feet under the hole. He missed, strengthening Doyle's chances.
"I was kind of moving up the leaderboard and obviously I don't know what really happened," said Weibring, bettering his sixth-place Senior Open finish last year. "It isn't a great feeling to finish bogey-bogey when you have a chance to win the U.S. Senior Open, but I've played well all week."
If that wasn't enough, Doyle had to anxiously wait the outcome with Roberts who needed to birdie the 72nd hole to force a playoff. Doyle was so far behind the pack that he waited close to an hour outside of the clubhouse to learn of his fate. He practiced his putts just in case when the news was delivered.
Roberts, needing to sink a 25-foot birdie, couldn't prove he was the "Boss of Moss" when it mattered most.
"Certainly I'd be lying when I heard on the putting green that they just said, ‘Roberts missed and you've won.' What am I supposed to do, say, ‘No, let's go to a playoff anyway?'" said Doyle, seven groups behind third-round co-leaders Roberts and Stadler.
Said Roberts: "I still had a chance to win the tournament and that's the way I'm going to look at it, instead of looking at the fact that I threw the Open away."
Roberts had put himself in the final-hole situation because, again, he had a shaky driver, striking nine fairways for the second consecutive day. Earlier in the week Roberts suffered through a kidney stone, which maybe affected his endurance. His 11th hole, a par 4, might have epitomized that. The double bogey he absorbed occurred as a result of poor swings. He tried feathering a wedge on his approach shot, which dropped in the right greenside bunker. From there he targeted a spot 25 feet beneath the hole, but got under the ball. It dribbled several feet. He needed two strokes to find the green, saying afterward it cost him the championship.
"It was just a terrible shot," said Roberts, after playing in his first Senior Open.
He credited Doyle, though.
"Gosh, I mean, 8 under par, put that up on the scoreboard, Craig and I couldn't do anything about it and we couldn't do anything with our games."
Starting the day nine strokes out of the lead, Doyle smashed or tied a number of records. It was the largest comeback in a final round of a Senior Open, eclipsing Bruce Fleisher's old mark in 2001 when he came from behind by four strokes. It was the best finish by a champion, which previously had been a 65; and his 30 on the front side equaled the lowest nine-hole mark held by a host of others.
Even more remarkable, when measured against history, the victory stacks up as the second-largest comeback in a major on the PGA or Champions Tour. On the final day at the 1999 British Open, Paul Lawrie expunged Jean Van de Velde's 10-stroke advantage in a suspenseful finish.
Doyle, who played on two USA Walker Cup squads and finished runner-up to Justin Leonard in the 1992 U.S. Amateur, strung together four straight birdies from holes five through eight. He drained two 10-footers on six and seven, then a 20-footer on eight. On No. 10 and 14, he converted two 15-footers.
But afterward the modest Doyle harkened back to the road he took to get where he is now. He waxed poetic about wanting to be the best caddie player at his club. He heard the comments about his swing, but wouldn't change it for one simple reason.
"I had guys tells me, the assistant pros at the golf course tell me, ‘If you don't change your swing, you'll never amount to anything in this game,'" he said. "But there were also the guys that I wouldn't take any lessons from because they couldn't beat me anyways. We had an old pro that would tell me, ‘If a guy can't beat you, don't take a lesson from him. Because if he was that good of a teacher, he could teach himself how to play.'"
He also intimated that, among his Walker Cup and World Amateur appearances, he felt like a champion but "just didn't have the trophy to prove it.
"But it's a wonderful feeling. I mean, it's the organization [USGA] that pretty much everybody grows up looking to and wanting to play in their events."
Defending champion Peter Jacobsen waited until the end to congratulate Doyle. When all was said and done, Doyle was whisked off the putting range and through the locker room en route to the presentation ceremony on the 18th green. He popped out the door, where Jacobsen practically threw himself in his path. Jacobsen extended his right hand, offering a hearty congratulations. It fazed him a bit but he accepted it graciously.
The moral of the story?
For the kid who turned 57 last Tuesday, it was a confirmation that he had finally made the dream come true.