Hallberg fires 61 to beat Couples by a shot|
Conover, NC (Sports Network) - Gary Hallberg matched the course record with an
11-under 61, beating Fred Couples by a shot Sunday to win the Ensure Classic
for his first Champions Tour title.
Couples, staging a late rally, saw it stall at the 18th hole when he missed an
eight-foot birdie putt with a chance to force a playoff.
Hallberg, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, finished 54 holes at Rock Barn
with an 18-under 198 to tie the tournament scoring record.
His 61 matched the lowest final-round score by a winner in Champions Tour
"That's just too good to be true for me," said Hallberg, who collected
$262,500 for the victory.
Couples had three straight birdies, then finished with back-to-back pars to
take second place at 17-under 199. He hit his second shot at the par-five 18th
through the back of the green, leaving a long chip shot that he rolled eight
feet past the hole.
Trying to win for the fourth time in his debut season on the Champions Tour,
Couples was too strong with his birdie putt and it stayed above the hole,
giving him a par for 67.
"I just hit it a little too hard and went through the break," said Couples.
Tour money leader Bernhard Langer also shot a 67 and finished in third place
at 16-under 200. Langer, who trailed 36-hole leader Couples by a shot entering
the round, cooled off after making five birdies in his first 12 holes.
Bob Tway had a hole-in-one at No. 9 and shot a 62 to take fourth place at 201.
Hallberg, playing three groups in front of Couples and Langer, rallied from
five shots back for the win.
It was a spectacular round from start to finish, bookended by birdies at the
first and 18th holes. He also had an eagle, at the par-five seventh, that
highlighted a five-hole stretch where Hallberg went five-under.
Still, it wasn't until back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th holes that
Hallberg tied Couples and Langer for the lead.
Hallberg went back-to-back again, making seven-foot birdie putts at the 15th
and 16th to take a one-shot lead.
He tried to chip in for eagle from the rough beside the 18th green, aiming to
carry a three-shot lead into the clubhouse. But he knocked it six feet past
the hole, settling for a birdie instead.
As it turned out, that was good enough.
"You never think you're going to win. It's so far out there. You look at the
players -- you know, Freddie Couples, Bernhard Langer -- you look at the guys
and you think, 'Golly, even if I play my best, I don't know if I can beat
those guys,'" said Hallberg.
"You've got to believe. You've got to have confidence."
Couples looked to be out of contention after hitting the lip of a fairway
bunker with his second shot at the 12th hole. A bogey there dropped him two
back of Langer, who drained a six-foot birdie putt on the same hole.
But while Langer parred the remaining holes, Couples caught fire.
He followed a mid-range birdie at the 14th with a 20-foot birdie putt at the
15th, then stuck his approach to about two feet at the 16th to make it three
in a row and draw within one of Hallberg's clubhouse number.
Couples, after a par at the 17th, found the rough with his drive at the 18th
and took a big swing. His second shot hit the back of the green, but rolled
through, leaving him with a chip shot the length of a gigantic putting
Some members of the gallery serenaded Couples with "Happy Birthday" as he
approached the green -- he turned 51 on Sunday -- but the man they call "Boom
Boom" wasn't able to give them what they wanted: a playoff.
His chip was too strong, and so was the putt coming back.
"It was a good week," said Couples. "I'm highly disappointed, but I'll get
over it as soon as I get about 20 miles down the road."
NOTES: Couples' first three wins came in his initial four starts this
season...Langer was chasing his sixth win of the season...Hallberg tied 2009
champion Jay Haas' tournament scoring record and 2008 winner R.W. Eaks' course
record...Next week is the final major of the year for the Champions Tour, The
Senior Players Championship, which Jay Haas won in 2009.
10/03 18:39:07 ET