Bruce Lietzke may have stumbled in the final round of the 2003 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, by missing fairways. But, riding the forgiving blade of his putter, he maintained his third-round lead, and, despite finishing bogey-bogey on Sunday, the rangy Texan claimed his first major victory in 53 attempts.
Lietzke won by two strokes over Tom Watson and by three over Vicente Fernandez.
"I will take a lot of pride in surviving one of the toughest tests of golf that I have ever been exposed to," Lietzke said following his victory. "With this golf course setup I think it's probably in the topfive of the toughest tournaments that I have ever played in my life. That is where the pride comes from - instead of beating the champions, maybe it's just that you survived the ultimate test in golf."
After firing a third-round 64 (seven under par), a championship record for lowest score in the third round, Lietzke, a long-time PGA Tour player and a winner of seven Champions Tour titles, had a comfortable lead heading into Sunday by four, strokes over Watson and Fernandez.
And though he was able to maintain that four-shot lead after nine holes on Sunday, in large part thanks to an eagle on the par-5 eighth hole, Lietzke, known for his accurate driving, kept Watson's and Fernandez's hopes in the championship alive due to inconsistency from the tee.
"My swing was really not comfortable (today) and it comes from trying to squeeze it into these narrow fairways and knowing what the penalty is if you hit it in the rough," Lietzke said. "I guess that's what major championships tough golf course setups are all about. It's trying to control it. And I didn't control that very good."
In the end, though, he was able to survive and win because of a hot putter pair of clutch shots on the championship's closing holes.
Lietzke missed the fairway on the par-4 14th hole and found himself behind a throng of trees. Clutching a 7-iron, Lietzke played a high hook, which cleared the trees and landed short of the green. He was able to save par from there.
On the par-4 16th, Lietzke sailed a 3-wood into the left rough. His 8-iron a landed in the rough in front of the green, then bounced to within inches hole for a birdie.
Though Lietzke made bogey on the par-417th and 18th holes, his closest competitor, Watson, never found a sharp putting game to contend.
Earlier, Watson had stormed out of the gate in Thursday's opening round with a five-under 66, then played steady even-par golf in the championship's final three days.
"I had my opportunities the last three rounds and I used up all of my opportunities the first round," Watson said. " I thought 5-under-par was lock-cinch in wining this golf tournament when I first started."
Watson, who lost in a playoff to Don Pooley in the 2002 Senior Open, finished second, two strokes behind Lietzke. Fernandez, who set a record of his own with a second-round 64, finished alone in third at four under par.