It was a little ironic that a man who couldn't walk three months ago won Sunday's 36-hole test of endurance at the 25th U.S. Senior Open.
Peter Jacobsen, on crutches six weeks after undergoing hip surgery in late April, parred the 18th hole at Bellerive Country Club to win the championship at 12-under-par 272. In doing so, he became the second-youngest champion behind Dale Douglass and seventh first-time winner in his first Senior Open.
Jacobsen, with a final round 3-under 68, seized the moment when third-round leader Tom Kite double bogeyed the finishing hole to plummet into a tie for third with Jay Haas at 10-under 274.
Two-time Senior Open champion Hale Irwin, with local ties, made a late charge to close out the championship at 11-under 273.
"It feels unbelievable," said Jacobsen, who pocketed the $470,000 first-place prize. "I've played in USGA championships since I was 15 years old. Junior Amateurs, Amateurs, U.S. Opens, and my first Senior Open. I'm speechless practically."
Because rain washed out Friday's second round, the third and fourth rounds were played Sunday. It didn't help matters that hot, muggy conditions added to the show.
But it was Kite's championship to lose, and it slipped away like a loose knot coming down the stretch. It was a surprising turn of events considering that he had been five for nine when leading an event after the third round on the Champions Tour.
With a one-stroke lead on Jacobsen at No. 15, Kite proceeded to go bogey-bogey-par-double bogey on his final four holes. By the 11th hole he had gotten as low as 14 under, a two stroke lead on Jacobsen and seemed in total control.
The 448-yard 15th proved to be a pivotal hole. That's when Kite started the freefall. He missed a right-to-left 6-footer for par and then couldn't get up and down on the par-3 16th. After his ball lipped the hole, he threw his arms up.
The back-breaker came on No. 18. Tied with Jacobsen at that point, Kite hooked his ball into a left fairway bunker then took a 5-iron from his caddie. The next shot caromed off the front bunker lip and bounded 5 feet into the left rough. A flubbed chip on his fourth shot sent his ball 20 feet below the hole, which led to the double bogey.
A dour Kite said few words afterward, bee-lining for the locker room. While packing up inside, he stayed to himself mostly. Players made small talk but it provided little comfort.
"I played great until the last four holes," said Kite, who finished second in putting average with a 27.50 average. "I made some very poor swings coming down the stretch."
By the time Jacobsen made it to the 18th fairway, he had heard enough reaction from the gallery to know something was amiss. He couldn't see what was unfolding ahead.
"I thought on 18 I had to make birdie," said Jacobsen. "When I got to the fairway, I had heard Tom made a six. I knew I just had to make par.
"I can certainly feel for him. Coming down the last few holes of 36-hole round, you start to feel the fatigue."
Coming into the championship Jacobsen was unsure whether he'd be able to even make it through the first two rounds. After all, he had pulled out of the last two majors on the Champions Tour because of a continually-healing left hip. The purpose of the operation performed three months was to reattach a torn labrum.
News that the USGA pushed the final two rounds to Sunday didn't exactly please Jacobsen. Uncertainty entered his mind, but he knew he'd have to shove those thoughts out of his subconscious if he was to have a shot at the title.
Kite rode a 6-under 65 in the third round to a two-stroke lead on Jacobsen. But it didn't faze Jacobsen, even as he made a mad rush to compose himself in the shower while awaiting his tee time 45 minutes later.
He took a cold 10-minute shower and felt refreshed.
"I had a lot of adrenaline going today," said Jacobsen, adding that he almost withdrew from the championship a week ago.
To his credit, Jacobsen hung around while it didn't seem as though Kite would waver. Birdies on the 10th, 11th and 14th holes kept his spirits high, even if bogeys on No. 12 and 15 briefly set him back. The key, he said, was the 15-foot birdie putt on 14 because he had been two strokes behind Kite.
The 16th hole re-energized him after a par save from 12 feet.
First-round leader Craig Stadler, who was in Jacobsen's group, playfully harassed him during the final round.
"Stadler told me, ‘I call B.S. on your bad hip.' And I said, ‘Yeah, Craig, I withdrew from the Ford Seniors and the British Senior Open just because I was ducking you.'"
While Jacobsen and Kite astonished the masses, it looked like Irwin would sneak to the top. Irwin shook off a morale-busting double bogey on the par-3 sixth to creep to 11 under thanks to four birdies and even-par golf the rest of the way.
Yet it was the double bogey that defined the round. Irwin's shot off the tee found a cement block that surrounded a pond and plopped into the water. He took a drop before then striking the flagstick on the fly. The ball bounced back toward the pond.
"That was the worst thing it could have done," said Irwin. "When you hit what you're aiming at, it's a bad deal."
Irwin knew at the end he had a legitimate chance to walk away with the title.
"I knew I had to birdie the last two holes, and I felt and hoped that they [Jacobsen and Kite] didn't, and it all came true except the 18th hole," said Irwin.
On the 18th, Jacobsen needed to two-putt from 20 feet. He didn't convert the first one, but sent the ball close. When he tapped in, he smiled and hugged wife Jan.
"There's nothing like winning, nothing like hitting that last putt on the final hole" said Jacobsen.
It was a feeling that escaped Kite as he made his way out of the Bellerive clubhouse. Asked if there was anything positive he took from a 5-under day, he said "not right at the moment."