Sunday posed possibilities galore for a spirited day of leaderboard leapfrog at TPC Sugarloaf. If there was any spring at all left in these Baby Boomers’ legs, they’d be bounding over each other all afternoon long.
Too many good players bunched too closely together for anything else.
Then second-round leader Stephen Ames just said no to any such childish nonsense. He sapped all the electricity out of the Mitsubishi Electric Classic, shooting a final round 66 on his way to a four-stroke victory over Bernhard Langer.
It was the 52-year-old Ames’ breakthrough first title on the 50-and-over PGA Tour Champions, accomplished amid a chorus of “It’s about time; this is what we’ve been expecting all along” from the Golf Channel television crew.
“It has been long coming when you consider the fact of what I’ve been going through with my life the last three years,” said Ames, whose turmoil included a breakup with his wife and a move from Calgary to the west coast of Canada. “I’m quite happy to be in this situation right now. Things are getting a lot easier to manage and enjoy a little bit more.”
This was as stress-free as it can get with a $270,000 winners’ share at stake. The history of this event is brief — dating back to just 2013 — but now Ames owns its scoring record, 15 under, and its record for largest margin of victory.
All those other players lined up behind him Saturday just kind of dissolved into an amorphous mass. Five players began the day just one stroke behind Ames, and none shot lower than 70. Their aggregate score was 3 over.
Before Ames teed off, Kevin Sutherland had tied for the lead at 9 under. Ames then birdied his opening hole, and never had company at the summit again.
It just kept getting easier, like every step on this rolling course was downhill for Ames alone. He chipped in for birdie on No. 7. Scrambled for par on a hole that took out all his closest pursuers, No. 9, after hitting it behind a television tower. And never once serious thought about writing a bogey into his scorecard.
It was only those bubbling up from the great depths who even caused him momentary angst. Playing eight groups ahead of Ames, Langer, who the day before had his 36-consecutive-rounds-under-par streak snapped, fiercely began another streak. He shot the day’s low round, 65, but was too far in competitive debt at the start of the day to profit now.
“I saw he finished 11 under, I realized, OK, I can actually put this in cruise control — which I did coming in,” Ames said.
Said one of his Sunday playing partners, Atlanta’s Billy Andrade, “He played fantastic golf today. It was really effortless.” Andrade shot 74 Sunday and drifted down into a tie for 18th.
Here’s the picture of a relaxed golfer: As he awaited to hit his second shot to the par 5 18th, Ames plopped down atop a grassy hill, king of all he surveyed, taking a moment to stop and smell the victory.
“Well, four-shot lead, not much to worry about from there,” he said.
Born in Trinidad, an island guy by nature, you wouldn’t think Ames would have trouble relaxing. But he said his overarching goal here this week was “to control my anxiety and my emotions and my breathing.” Inhale. Exhale. OK, got that?
Yeah, he was irked by a 20-minute wait his last group faced on the ninth tee while Sutherland searched for a lost ball, only to return to hit another tee shot. He was still irked afterward. “Really unsportsmanlike,” Ames called Sutherland’s decision not to hit a provisional ball off the tee immediately after his first one strayed. But he collected himself for a scrambling par on the hole — a big gut check for his round (conversely, Andrade made double bogey).
As the one who won the 2006 Players Championship by six strokes, Ames has something of a knack for comfortable victory. Sunday, he once again was basically that guy wearing the Cubs cap with the price tag still on it — a classic front-runner.
Having broken through at TPC Sugarloaf, mightn’t Ames, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, display that trait again and maybe again on the over-50 circuit?
“Got a good chance,” Andrade said.