Lehman birdie clinches Allianz win

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Tom Lehman had to wait for his final putt at 18 to drop before he could punch the air in triumph at the Allianz Championship.

Tom Lehman had to wait for his final putt for birdie to drop before he was able to punch the air in triumph at the Allianz Championship.

The putt for a closing 69 and a 13-under 54-hole winning total in the Champions Tour’s first full-field tournament of the year, broke the deadlock with Jeff Sluman and Rod Spittle that had helped fill Sunday’s final round with drama and intrigue and earned Lehman his third Champions Tour victory by a shot.

Sluman had an eagle chance to tie Lehman at the 18th, but had to settle for a birdie, a 67 and a tie for second place with Spittle (70), one shot off the pace at 204.

Lehman, 51 and a former Open Champion and US Ryder Cup captain, posted five birdies in all, but allowed Sluman and Spittle to stay in the hunt with bogies at the par-4 ninth and par-3 14th.

Said a beaming Lehman afterwards: “It was a good day, it was a fun day. It was pretty nip-and-tuck all the way. No one could really get a separation. I played a pretty steady round of golf and was fortunate to get the victory.”

Lehman said he knew when Sluman missed his eagle putt and he (Lehman) had only to nail his own birdie putt from five feet that he finally had the chance to break the deadlock and win.

“That’s when I got calm. It was all up to me to just roll it in the hole.”

He did, leaving Sluman and Spittle, who spent 25 years in the insurance business before turning professional in 2004, sharing second place and Russ Chochran (70) and Olin Brown (67) in a tie for fourth, a further two shots. back on 206

Lehman said he aimed at playing in half-a-dozen PGA events this season with the balance on the Champions Tour, and believes he can still win on both Tours.

“The Champions Tour is a blessing to all of us who play out here because at our age in most sports you’re done,” he said.

“The quality of play is exceptional. What motivates me is wanting to still improve. I do know I’m one of the top players out here, there’s no doubt about that. I’m not saying that to be cocky, I just know.”

Spittle, who spent 25 years in the insurance business before turning pro in 2004, went into fan mode after he missed his 7-foot putt on the 18th.

“I have the best seat in the house,” said Spittle, who won his first Champions Tour title at the AT&T Championships last year. “If I can’t make my putt on 18, I’m cheering for Tom to make his.”

Germany’s Bernhard Langer, the defending champion and last year’s star player in US over-50s golf, closed with a 72 and a 70 to finish joint 17th in a seven-way tie that included overnight leader Peter Senior of Australia, who tumbled down the leaderboard with a closing 77.

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