Jeff Maggert’s position tied atop the leaderboard to start the final round of the U.S. Senior Open couldn’t have been more tenuous. With 16 players within two shots, one bad swing could have sent him spiraling outside the top 20, not to mention costing him a shot at winning.
Yet Maggert, 51, had his wife, Michelle, and children, 10-year-old twins Jake and Madeline, fly to Sacramento from South Carolina on Sunday morning. They had not been present when he won his two Champions Tour events.
Talk about confidence. Talk about pressure.
Maggert responded with a machine-like-efficient 5-under-par 65 at Del Paso Country Club to nab the senior version of the national championship that so often narrowly eluded him when he was younger. He beat Colin Montgomerie (66) by two shots.
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“I was excited that they were coming,” Maggert said. “It was a little bit of an extra, hey, they came all the way here. Don’t screw this one up. I don’t want my son giving me a hard time coming all the way from South Carolina, and my daughter and my wife going, ‘Oh, we’re never doing this again.’”
Maggert missed only one fairway and hit 15 greens in regulation. He birdied the first three holes and didn’t trail after the fifth hole. He said his mindset was to be aggressive, and that was not more evident than on the ninth hole, where he was one of the few contenders to go for the green on the 280-yard par-4.
His ball landed in the middle of the green and rolled to the back edge. Two putts later, he had a birdie and a two-shot lead.
“(I didn’t want) to just hang around near the lead, (but) to try to put a little distance between myself and the others,” he said. His advantage was no fewer than two shots the rest of the way.
Maggert came to the 18th hole with a two-shot lead that gave him a little breathing room. He striped his drive down the middle, then flared his approach shot into a green-fronting bunker. After a quick survey, he blasted out to within 3 feet and completed the job in front of an appreciative crowd and happy family.
Maggert had seven top-10 finishes in the U.S. Open in an 11-year span while he was on the PGA Tour, where he won three times. He won his first major, the Regions Tradition, last month.
It’s been a career-long learning curve, he said.
“I had a lot of good runs in U.S. Opens over the years and probably lacked a little maturity to pull it off,” he said. “But certainly, now that I’m an old guy, I’ve learned a lot and was able to just steady myself and play well.”
Montgomerie put up a good fight in his third successive week playing a major championship, twice against seniors and last week’s U.S. Open.
“To come here tired, very tired, and to put a good performance up, it’s always nice to, when you’re defending a title, to defend it properly,” he said.
“I thought to get to 8 under would have been good enough. All credit to Jeff Maggert.”
Grant Waite (67) and Bernhard Langer (68), who started the final round tied with Maggert, tied for third.
Billy Andrade and Lee Janzen engaged in a spirited early battle to be the leader in the clubhouse, the course-record holder or both. Andrade shot a 63 to set the course record, and when Janzen’s long birdie putt across the 18th green grazed the hole without falling, he had a 64. They tied for fifth, four shots back.
Sacramento’s Kevin Sutherland got within two strokes of the lead with a two-putt birdie on No. 15 but fell from contention with a double bogey on No. 16. He closed with a 68 to tie with Tom Watson (69) and Scott Dunlap (69) for seventh.
Maggert’s experience has taught him how to win. It’s also taught him success can be fleeting.
“Golf’s a funny game,” he said. “Monday we’ll be questioning ourselves all over again.”