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The key to holding a great golf tournament is the same as the key to making a great batch of chocolate-chip cookies: You have to have the right ingredients. Last week's 67th Senior PGA Championship had them all. � A demanding but lovely venue. That made Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla., a slam dunk for the Senior PGA. Designed by Pete Dye, Oak Tree had the highest course rating (76.9) in the country when it opened 30 years ago. A recent renovation tacked on 400 yards (to a total of 7,412) and upped the rating to 77.1. "It's not a golf course, it's an obstacle course," says Champions tour veteran Dana Quigley. Oak Tree, which hosted the 1988 PGA Championship won by Jeff Sluman, fell out of favor when the club's ownership became enmeshed in the savings-and-loan crisis of the late '80s but is now major-worthy again. Even better, Oak Tree's winding fairways, sparkling ponds, inviting bunkers, charming stonework and blossoming trees looked great on TV.
A deserving winner. Jay Haas was loath to give up playing on the PGA Tour, especially now that his son Bill has made the grade. But Haas has found a home on the Champions tour. The Senior PGA was his third senior victory in his last three starts and has earned him the title of Senior Most Likely to Run the Freakin' Table This Year. Haas's ball striking was nearly flawless in the final round, during which he hit 14 of the last 15 greens. What won him the title, though, was his putting. He needed only 11 putts on the front nine on Sunday and came up big when he had to. He rolled in a 12-footer on the 72nd hole for a take-the-lead birdie and another 15-footer on the third playoff hole to save par, a stroke that turned out to be the winner when Brad Bryant missed his four-footer to extend overtime.
A notable achievement. The media fixated on Phil Mickelson's inability to win a major in his first 42 tries. That was nothing. Haas was 0 for 89 until Sunday (83 regular majors, six as a senior). Now, at last, he can move on. "I tried my darnedest to win a major on the PGA Tour, but it didn't happen," Haas said. "I won't say this is the next best thing--this is like one of them to me."
Adverse conditions. Oklahoma is, by Broadway's definition, where "the wind comes sweeping down the plain," and it lived up to its billing. Gusts blew fiercely and irregularly up to 35 mph all weekend. "You know it's going to be a tough day when you walk out of the hotel at 6:30 in the morning and just about get knocked down by the wind," said D.A. Weibring, who finished 10th. How tough was it? Nineteen players were under par after the first round, but only five finished in red numbers. Just two (Dick Mast and Mike McCullough) broke 70 in the third round, when the wind was the strongest, while Craig Stadler was among the 11 players who failed to break 80. You'd figure that the well-grounded Walrus would be impervious to any wind below tornado level, but he shot an 84, tying the highest score of his pro career. When asked about the playing conditions, he said, "They sucked."
A heroic turnaround. How about two of them? Haas trailed Gil Morgan by four strokes at the start of the final round, then bogeyed the second and third holes. Just when you thought he was toast, Haas reversed field and reeled off five straight birdies to roar into a two-shot lead. "There were moments today when I thought I would be at the airport by now," Haas said, "and there were moments when I felt as if I had everything under control." Bryant, the artist formerly known as Dr. Dirt, piled up four bogeys and a double bogey during a seven-hole stretch starting at the 5th and also looked to be out of contention. Then he birdied the 13th and holed a monster putt for birdie at the 14th. "It was 60 feet or some such nonsense," Bryant said. At the par-5 16th, Bryant dangerously played a right-to-left tee shot, starting his ball over a water hazard and a stand of trees. When it came to a rest in the fairway, he had only a mid-iron to the green, which he stiffed. After making the three-footer for eagle, he was tied for the lead with Haas at four under. Both men birdied the difficult 18th, but Bryant, who went four under on the final six holes, did it the hard way--hitting a remarkable recovery shot from the right rough to force the playoff.
Agony of defeat. There was plenty. The gallery was solidly behind Gil Morgan, who in 1979 bought the third house built in Oak Tree and still lives in it. He's one of the Oak Tree Gang, eight current or former Tour players who live in the area. Besides Morgan, there are David and Danny Edwards, Mark Hayes, Doug Tewell, Bob Tway, Scott Verplank and Willie Wood. Don't be fooled by the racy nickname--these plain men of the plains are the quietest, least-threatening gang since the Osmond family. Morgan, 59, contended for three rounds (reminding everyone how underrated his ball-striking skills are), but his putter betrayed him on Sunday. "Dramatic, that's a good word for it," Bryant said of the final round. "Excruciating. There were even a couple of holes that were fun. Not many, only a couple."
A sidekick. Haas and fellow Wake Forest alum Curtis Strange bunked with Tway, whose wife and son were off at a junior golf tournament and whose daughter was also away. The 47-year-old Tway not only cooked for his pals--ribs on the grill were a popular item--he also recorded each day's telecast for group viewing. "We were simply a bunch of guys feeding our faces and watching golf," Haas said. "I really liked the way I was swinging, and Johnny Miller was very complimentary. He said my putting stroke was mesmerizing. I kept telling myself, Boy, if Johnny thinks my stroke is mesmerizing, it must be good."
An improbable, unpredictable break. Haas was clinging to a two-shot lead on Sunday when, at 16, he went for the green with a five-wood. His ball jumped left out of the rough, clipped a tree branch and appeared headed for the water. Instead, it bounced once on the bank next to the creek, then a second time off the hazard's wooden pilings and back into play. Haas took advantage of his good fortune to make par. "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that goes into the creek and I make a bogey for sure," Haas said. "That was a golden break, definitely."
A dash of emotion. The significance of the victory hit home when NBC's Jimmy Roberts went on-camera with Haas moments after the playoff and said, "Jay, finally a major championship after all this time." Haas, holding back tears, couldn't answer. "I wanted to say, 'We did it, Jan,'" Haas said later, referring to his wife. "But nothing would come out."
A family reunion. This week Haas will make what he says will be his final appearance at the Memorial. Bill Haas, who missed the cut at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and caught his dad's playoff win on TV in the Nashville airport, will join him in Dublin, Ohio. "It's a pretty neat thing to have your family behind you," says Jay, the father of five. "That's who I play for, Jan and the kids."