British Senior Open: Stephen Dodd earns biggest win of his career with birdie at the last

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Stephen Dodd achieved his career highlight in dramatic fashion, holing a 10-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole to win the Senior British Open at Sunningdale Golf Club (Old) in Berkshire, England.

“He’s got to have ice in his veins,” said Golf Channel’s announcer. “To hit some of the shots and deal with the pressure with what’s at stake in a life-changing moment for Stephen Dodd.”

With rain falling for much of the round, Dodd’s birdie at the last capped off a 2-under 68 and 72-hole total of 13-under 267 to hold off Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, who finished a shot farther back.

Dodd, a 55-year-old Welshman, vaulted into the lead on Saturday with a remarkable 8-under 62, tying the lowest score at the Senior British Open. But due to COVID-19 postponing tournaments and his lack of international status, Dodd had only played in one tournament in the last 18 months.

“I didn’t know what sort of game I’d wake up with today and it wasn’t a great one,” he said.

The challenge of trying to follow up his 62 a day later set in early as Dodd had to scramble to make a nifty up-and-down birdie from over the green at the first hole. He skated along with pars, including draining a long par putt at the seventh hole, before making his first bogey on the front nine all week at the eighth. But he bounced back with a birdie at the short par-4 ninth to make the turn in 34.

Clarke, who was attempting to join an exclusive group of three golfers to win both the British Open and Senior British Open, surged to the top of the leaderboard with three birdies in his first seven holes to get to 11 under. But Clarke made his first bogey of the day at No. 10 to drop a stroke behind Dodd again. Clarke narrowly missed an eagle putt at 14, but regained the lead only to make bogey at 16 and settle for 67 and a third-place finish at 11-under 269.

Jimenez, who made an albatross at the first hole of the third round, failed to build on his hot start on Saturday and entered the final round trailed by four strokes. But he charged home in 65, including a 20-foot birdie at 17 to tie Dodd at the top. His birdie at the last just slid to the right and he had to settle for par, setting up Dodd’s dramatics. Of the battle with his emotions on Sunday, Dodd said, “I was in control of them, I just wasn’t in control of the ball, which was a big problem.”

Stephen Dodd of Wales celebrates sinking a 10-foot birdie putt for victory at the Senior British Open at Sunningdale Golf Club in England. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

The Welshman scrambled for pars time and again despite a few shaky moments. He flared his tee shot to the right into trouble at 12 and had to chip out from the trees, but wedged on and holed a 10-foot par putt. He took three putts at the 13th to fall out of the lead momentarily, but bounced back with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 14th. Three steady pars brought him to the 72nd hole in a tie with Jimenez at 12 under. After Dodd’s tee shot bounced into the right rough, he hit a beauty from 164 yards that skittered to a stop 10 feet past the hole.

“Perfection,” Golf Channel’s announcer said. “We’ve seen a lot of great shots this week but that’s got to be the best shot given all the pressure.”

He coolly rolled in the downhill birdie putt and received a hug from runner-up Jimenez, who was watching from behind the green. When asked if he ever imagined at the beginning that he might win, Dodd said, “That was the last thing on my mind, really. I just wanted to do myself justice and luckily I’ve done that.”

He’s done more than that. He’s the Champion Senior Golfer of the Year and a major champion at last.

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