Des Smyth and Mark James produced a final round birdie blitz to retain their Raphael Division title in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf at Savannah Harbor Golf Resort in Georgia.
James holed a monster 45-foot putt from just off the back of the 18th green to help the former Ryder Cup pair add an 11 under 61 to their opening 64 for a one-shot win over Mark McCumber/Wayne Grady and Steve Jones/Denis Watson on 19 under par and an unconfirmed pay day of around $60,000 each.
“I’m shocked at such a low score to win because we were tying going out at 8 under and we got to the turn in 7 under, and then we followed a few more birdies on top of that, 11 and 12, and I kind of thought oh, we must be a couple ahead by now,” Smyth said.
“And I looked at the board and the boys told me we’re only tying, and then we came off the 15th green and we were a shot back.
“I’m just amazed how they all shoot so low because we thought they were playing fantastic. It just shows the standard of the guys, especially in the four-ball. It lends itself to this type of play. So very happy to have won.”
Smyth and James came to the last tied for the lead and facing a possible three-way play-off but James was proved right in elected to putt rather than chip.
“At this stage of the season, usually I chip very poorly … that’s embarrassing in front of the grandstands,” James said. “It seemed a better bet.”
A three-way play-off in a fourball format was not something James or Smyth fancied and while they did not know that Watson and Jones finished birdie-eagle (2-2) with Jones holing out from the rough at the 419 yard 18th, they guessed a birdie at the last was required to win the Raphael Division title for players aged 50-69.
Q. But you knew on 18 you were in a logjam?
MARK JAMES: No, we didn’t know, there was no scoreboard. When we came up 17, the scoreboards hadn’t been updated.
DES SMYTH: But we assumed we were tying with Mark McCumber and Wayne Grady. That’s — we felt coming down 18, if we make a birdie, we can win. We didn’t realize what Steve Jones and his partner —- Denis Watson, wasn’t it?
MARK JAMES: Yeah.
DES SMYTH: I didn’t know about that 2-2 finish. That’s the thing that can happen with four ball golf you just never know.
Q. Is it better not to know?
MARK JAMES: Probably is, yeah.
DES SMYTH: We needed a birdie, that’s what we were thinking.
MARK JAMES: But you don’t ever want to be in a three-way playoff. Two-way playoff certainly individual play in a tournament, you can look the other guy in the eye and sort of play him out sometimes, you know, just — but three-way playoff in individual — anything can happen in a three-way playoff in four ball, the sky’s the limit.
DES SMYTH: We’re happy to have avoided that.
While James claimed the glory shot, he paid tribute to 59-year old Laytown legend Smyth for his nine birdie haul.
Last year it was James who did the bulk of the scoring but this year it was the Irish star who did the guts of the work.
“We get on very well, so I think we’re a good team and we have a lot of faith in each other, which helps in four ball,” James said. “Even though last year and this year one of us was slightly off key, we managed to come through, which I think is amazing. Certainly a nice surprise to win again.”
Asked to talk about his big putt on the last, James joked: “It was all down to me. Gloss over Des’ previous nine birdies.”
Smyth was surprised that James elected to putt rather than chip at the last, explaining: “Actually, Mark is a wonderful pitcher. It’s one of his strengths, among others. I was actually surprised to see him pull a putter.”
But James said: “It’s early in the season. The chipping is the one thing a lot of us find more difficult than usual, and on the Senior Tour chipping is something that does go, like putting.
“Only with chipping you can’t actually use a long chipper like a long putter. Chipping is something that gives senior golfers a little bit of trouble at times.”
It was Smyth’s eighth win in the Senior ranks and his fourth on the Champions Tour.
He won SBC Classic and the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in 2005 before his latest win gave him back to back Raphael Division titles at the Liberty Mutual Legends with James. He also has four wins on the European Seniors Tour.