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Volume 68, Issue 152, Monday, June 30, 2003

Sports
 

Former Coog grabs first championship

Cougar Sports Services

The first major championship of Bruce Lietzke's career came on a day when he couldn't find the fairway.

The former Cougar struggled with his swing throughout the final round of the U.S. Senior Open on Sunday, but made the four-shot lead he started the day with stand up.

Lietzke's 2-over-par 73 was a far cry from his round of 64 Saturday but it was enough to give him his first major championship in 53 tries. He finished with a 7-under 277, two shots better than Tom Watson, who had an even-par final round.

"It's not the person who finished second or third, or the strength of the field, it's did you survive a week on a golf course that tests every part of your game?" Lietzke said. "I'm not sure I feel like a champion as much as a survivor."

After putting out for a bogey on the closing hole, Lietzke was hugged by his wife, Rose, who had flown up Sunday morning from the family's home in Dallas to see her husband win on the Champions Tour for the first time. Lietzke collected $470,000 for the win.

"This is a tough golf course," Watson said. "I thought 5 under would be a lock-cinch win."

Watson, the first-round leader after a 65, never made a serious charge against his playing partner. Lietzke all but ended any chance for Watson when he rolled in a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 eighth hole to expand his lead to six shots.

"Bruce's nickname was perfect today: Leaky," Watson said. "He was leaking oil and smoke, blowing that blue smoke out of the pipes, but that engine just kept running. I think he finishing on just two pistons."

Lietzke, 51, won for the seventh time since joining the senior circuit in 2001. He had 13 wins on the PGA Tour. He tied for third behind John Jacobs earlier this year at the Senior PGA Championship, the tour's first major of the year.

In 52 previous starts in major championships -- five as a senior and the rest while on the PGA Tour -- Lietzke's best finish was a second to John Daly at the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick. His best previous finish in an Open was a tie for 17th at Merion in 1981. '

Almost everyone in the field said that the only way to win at Inverness Club was to keep the ball in the fairway to have a shot at hitting the tiny Donald Ross-designed greens. Almost everyone was wrong. Lietzke, known as one of the longest drivers on tour, hit just seven of a possible 15 fairways when he took the lead Saturday and managed to find the short grass on only five fairways Sunday.

"Two hooks won the 2003 U.S. Senior Open for me,'' Lietzke said. ''Those are words I didn't think I'd ever say."

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