He snookered them, that's what he did.
Good ‘ole Allen Doyle saw the situation was ripe for the picking Sunday, and he snatched the 27th U.S. Senior Open away from Kansan Tom Watson and the rest of the field, waiting in the (Prairie Dunes) tall grass like an alligator eyeing its prey. He knew in his heart he wouldn't be denied, even if everyone else viewed him more as an obstacle to a victory labeled with Watson's name.
"Don't everyone looked surprised," said Doyle as he made his way to the interview room afterward.
No, don't be misled. Doyle, in becoming the first repeat champion since Gary Player, crafted his fourth sub-par round – the only player to do that this week – and walked away with the prize while leaving everyone else in his wake. He also became the oldest U.S. Senior Open champion at 58 years and 13 days, surpassing inaugural champion Roberto De Vicenzo.
He said afterward he enjoyed this major more, his fourth, because he did it on 1 ½ legs. Earlier in the year he underwent knee surgery and hasn't completely healed.
"Could you imagine if you had Allen Doyle and I in the final group, walking up together?" said Peter Jacobsen, who was bothered by a sore right hip. "You'd think we were headed for a senior buffet."
Doyle most definitely ate up the field.
Doyle crafted a 2-under-par 68 to finish the championship at 8-under-par 272, two shots ahead of the Watson. While Jacobsen (5-under 275), Andy Bean (4-under 276) and D.A. Weibring (2-under 278) all popped into the lead or a share of it at some point Sunday, Doyle just plodded along. When he babied in a 6-foot par save on the 13th hole that maintained a two-stroke advantage, a lone voice in the gallery seemed to be all the inspiration he needed. "Nice hit," screamed his wife, Kate, over a rather subdued crowd after it looked as though Watson would pick up a stroke.
That's the way he preferred it. When Watson knocked in his final putt to a standing ovation, Doyle playfully put his index finger to his lip to shush the crowd. The most important putt of the championship was still to be made. And when that disappeared into the earth, Doyle gave a resounding right arm pump in relief.
"I think a few of them changed allegiances when I hit into 18," said Doyle, laughing.
Said Watson, asked to measure his disappointment: "You set the scene. I'm playing in front of my home crowd at a great golf course, Prairie Dunes, in my home state, and most important championship on our tour, and I didn't win."
The day was tailor made for Doyle because he knew all of the pressure was on Watson. After all, Watson led the pack after the second and third rounds. Doyle commented after the second round that should he be grouped with Watson during the final round, he'd relish the role. He said he'd be licking his chops. Why? Because he knew he'd be the underwhelming favorite, what with the home-state fans clamoring for Watson.
"Today I was in a no-lose position," said Doyle. "See, if Tom won, he was supposed to win. As long as I gave him a pretty good battle, everybody would have been saying, ‘Great playing Al.'"
He drew on old experiences for motivation. Doyle was the guy with the unorthodox swing, the kid who learned how to swing a club in his childhood basement that had a 7-foot ceiling, the teen who was taken under the wing of his former club pro and told not to change a darn thing until someone proved they could beat him.
He felt besmirched.
The former college hockey standout at Norwich University has enjoyed the underdog part ever since he turned professional at age 47, wondering if he could handle the rigors of a touring life. He's applied the hockey mentality to his game.
"The hockey mentality, that's exactly what it is," he said. "I had a guy tell me that I was a golfer in a hockey player's body."
He was determined to prove everyone wrong, even if it meant spoiling the beloved Watson's day.
Well, Watson had a part in that. Once again, the putter turned balky and betrayed him. He three-putted two of the first three holes on a course made softer by morning showers. On the contrary Doyle, ranked fourth in putts with a 1.49 average, birdied two of his first three holes.
Watson caught Doyle on No. 7 with a gritty up and down from the left greenside rough in which he executed a lazy flop 5 feet from the hole.
By the eighth hole, they had company. The scoreboard showed Weibring 7 under through 12 holes, but that wouldn't last.
With final-day pressure intensifying, Doyle caught a break on the par-4 wavy 11th. Tied with Watson, Doyle's drive faded into the left sidehill gunch, but to be safe, rules official Jim Reinhart had him hit a provisional because marshals initially lost the ball. None too happy, Doyle bemoaned the ruling on the teeing ground, saying that the marshals weren't given any time to look.
The ball was found amid the gnarly junk. However, Doyle received relief because the ball had come to rest in a burrowing animal hole. Doyle took a drop and the ball bounded down into the first cut of rough, from where he was able to hit into a right greenside bunker. He got up and down for par; Watson lipped a 4-footer that led to bogey, and more importantly, broke a stalemate.
"It was huge," said fellow competitor Loren Roberts (2-under 278), who stood on the other side of the fairway when the ruling was made. "It went from a point to maybe getting into the fairway to a spot where he could get into a bunker. It was a very crucial point of the day, let me say that."
Watson side-stepped any controversy but agreed it was critical.
"That's the rule of the game," he said. "It happened three other times with players I played with this week."
Doyle knew he did nothing wrong.
"The officials were right there," said Doyle. "I've been asked about that two or three times, like maybe I shouldn't have got it or something. The only thing I can tell you is, if Tom Watson or Loren Roberts had got that ruling, they would have been applauded for and won. They would have been applauded as champions that took advantage of a good break and made something of it."
That aside, Doyle got stronger down the stretch. He hit the last six fairways, and all but one of the last six greens in regulation. He was virtually red-hot on anything inside 100 yards, always giving himself make-able chances on the green.
"You can take [Phil] Mickelson, take [Tiger] Woods, take Vijay [Singh], take Jim Furyk," said Jacobsen. "I'll put this guy up against anybody with his wedge from 100 yards in. The guy is phenomenal."
Watson continued to pester him, though.
First, he drained a 24-foot putt for birdie on No. 14 that crawled endlessly toward the hole. Watson raised his arm. The gallery erupted. But Doyle quieted them a 4-footer for a birdie of his own.
On the par-5 17th, Watson took a chance by playing a driver from the fairway 280 yards short of the green. He instead ended up in deep rough next to the green, chipping blindly to 2 feet and making birdie. Doyle again was up to the task, gently tapping a 12-footer that broke 8 inches right and dropped in through the back door.
"When Tom made his putt on 14, nothing silences a crowd more and nothing says more to another player when you top them. I'm not worried about, ‘Oh, I got to make this, got to make this, got to make this.' I looked at as, ‘Boy, when I top him, that's going to mean something.'"