FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Hinsdale’s Jeff Sluman made a run at the title in the final round of the 76th Senior PGA Championship on Sunday. After making five birdies in his first 10 holes Sluman even thought he had a chance to catch front-runner Colin Montgomerie.
“I just played excellent golf, which you have to do here,’’ said Sluman. “I certainly knew I was climbing the leaderboard. It’s a tough golf course, and you know there’s not going to be many people under par so – unless I’m a total idiot –I had to figure maybe I had an outside chance.’’
In the end, though, a 3-under-par 69 was too little too late for Sluman, who climbed from a tie for 24th at the start of the final round into a tie for seventh. He wound up nine strokes behind champion Montgomerie, who also finished with a 69 and won by four strokes over Esteban Toledo. The only lower score in the final round was a 68 by Marco Dawson, who tied for ninth.
The Pete Dye Course proved too much for most of the stars of the 50-and-over circuit. As was the case at the end of the second and third rounds, only five were under par at the end of the fourth. Montgomerie was at 8-under 280 in becoming only the fifth player to successfully defend a Senior PGA title. The other four were Eddie Williams in the 1940s, Paul Runyan (1961-62), Sam Snead (1964-65 and again in 1972-73) and Hale Irwin who enjoyed a three-peat from 1996-98.
Montgomerie had a series of near-misses in major championships during a solid career on the European and PGA Tours but was an instant success since joining the Champions Tour last year. In addition to making the Senior PGA his first major title he also won the U.S. Senior Open. Next year he’ll defend his Senior PGA crown on the same course he won on last year – Harbor Shores in Michigan.
Toledo cut Montgomerie’s three-stroke lead at the start of the day to one twice on the front nine but Montgomerie answered with four of his six birdies for the day coming between holes eight and 12.
“It was a difficult position to be three ahead. There was no place to go but down,’’ said Montgomerie. “It was very tiring mentally but after 12 I felt safe.’’