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Finish With a Fizzle
Gary Van Sickle
November 18, 1996
Jay Sigel brought a merciful end to a too-long season by winning the Senior Tour Championship
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November 18, 1996

Finish With A Fizzle

Jay Sigel brought a merciful end to a too-long season by winning the Senior Tour Championship

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The first thing the Senior tour needs to do is ignore its unofficial mascot, the Energizer Bunny. It keeps going and going and going and going...and all it does is become annoying. The tour's season is too long. Name the last important Senior tournament before this week. For that matter, name any tournament since the U.S. Senior Open.

The players are tired, but to stay exempt and keep their spots in the buffet line, the top 20 money winners have to play in more than 30 events on average—six more than their colleagues on the PGA Tour. Maybe that's why last week's Energizer Senior Tour Championship at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., seemed so anticlimactic, so quiet, so unenergized. It was naptime.

Or maybe the problem was Myrtle Beach, the Wal-Mart of American golf resorts, where over-50 hackers swarm across 90-plus courses in their carts, head for early-bird specials at Bill Knapp's and apparently load up on seashells and $3 souvenir T-shirts, judging by the impressive number of schlocky beachwear shops. This event is supposed to be the Senior tour's decisive grand finale, not some sort of social security program.

It didn't help that in a week in which praise for the Dunes—a course that places a premium on shotmaking, unlike the pitch-and-putts at many Senior tour stops—was nearly unanimous, the tour announced it will abandon the site. A TPC of Myrtle Beach will be built, and the tournament will move there, possibly by 1998, mainly so the Dunes's reportedly $100,000 rental fee can be struck from the tournament budget. Tom Fazio and Lanny Wadkins will design the course, which will be the 100th in the Myrtle Beach area.

It also didn't help that Jay Sigel eliminated a lot of the suspense from the event itself. After three straight 69s, the last two in rugged conditions, Sigel had shaken off faltering coleader Vicente Fernandez and gone into the final round with a three-shot advantage over 60-year-old wonder Bob Charles, whose middle-and long-iron play was as impressive as his putting. Sigel held off a late charge by Kermit Zarley to win by two, earn the $280,000 first prize and avoid setting a tour record for most money won in a season without a victory.

"Geez, isn't that too bad," joked Sigel, an insurance man from Philadelphia who ranked among the best career amateurs until curiosity and the Senior tour's riches got the better of him. He turned pro three years ago, as soon as he reached 50, and won once in his rookie year. This was his first win since.

"You never know whether you can win again," said Sigel. "That's the most rewarding part of today—getting in position and being able to survive. I have been close so many times, and here I was, close again. Was I going to do it or not?"

The reason for Sigel's success was simple. He eagled the par-5 15th hole on Friday and used his length to take advantage of the par-5s all week, playing them in six under par. (He finished at nine under.) The short-hitting Charles, on the other hand, made only three birdies on the par-5s. He wound up tied for sixth, seven strokes behind Sigel, although he easily won the $85,000 first prize in the Grand Masters competition for the 60-and-over set.

Was it Sigel's week or what? On Saturday he made a hole in one at the 5th. On Sunday he chipped in for birdie from a difficult lie at the 12th to widen his lead to six shots, a cushion he needed because Zarley promptly reeled off three straight birdies.

By Saturday night a victory by Sigel seemed certain to Dave Stockton, with whom he had dinner. "Dave said, 'On your way to Hawaii come out and stay with us,' " Sigel said. "I said, 'What? What's in Hawaii?' He said, 'The Tournament of Champions.' I said, 'Get out of here.' But now I'll think about it."

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