WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Aug 12, 2012) -- Pete Williams of Juno Beach has become the first amateur to win the title in the 36-year history of the Florida Senior Open golf tournament.
Williams, 53, a pilot for United Air Lines, survived a bizarre final three holes to win by four strokes with a final round of 68 for 204 on the Lakes course at Bear Lakes Country Club.
Two former champions tied for second at 208 to share low pro honors. Ed Sabo, 63, of Tequesta, the winner in 2000-01, closed with his second straight 68, while Gene Fieger, 52, head professional at Hideout Golf Club in Naples, shot 69, matching his first round score, also on the Lakes. He was the 2010 champion.
This was Williams’ first start in the Florida Senior Open, which had been played at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club the previous 35 years, or since 1977.
“Any victory is a big deal but to beat all the pros is something special,” Williams said. “Of course, the golf ball doesn’t know whether an amateur or a pro is hitting it.” The starting field of 156 players 50 years and older included 91 pros and 65 amateurs.
Williams was the Palm Beach County Golf Association’s senior player of the year the past two seasons, winning seven times.
Starting the final round three strokes in the lead, Williams was engaged in a duel with Fieger for 15 holes. Fieger had pulled even at the turn on birdies at the fourth, sixth, eighth and ninth holes compared to one by Williams, at the fifth. Each had hit all seven fairways, excluding the par-3s. Williams had reached eight greens in regulation, Fieger seven.
Then Williams birdied the par-4 10th, the par-3 11th and the par-5 12th, Fieger only the 12th. “That was huge,” Fieger said. “We both had birdie putts at 10 and 11. He made his and I just missed mine.”
Overall, “He played great, made a lot of good putts,” Fieger said of Williams.
Then after Williams and Fieger matched pars on the next three holes, things began to get weird. At the par-4 16th, first Williams, then Fieger, pulled his drive into a water hazard that runs the length of the fairway. After penalty drops, Fieger hit his next shot over the green. Williams was long but still on the putting surface.
Williams got down in two for bogey, Fieger chipped and two-putted for double bogey Then at the par-5 17th, Williams hit what he said later was the “best 3-iron I’ve ever hit,” reaching the green and sinking a 15 footer for eagle. Fieger, meanwhile, was enroute to a six as his third shot rolled through the green and into a greenside bunker.”
And finally at the par-4 18th, Williams was able to take a free drop from casual water in a fairway bunker but hit his next shot into the lake in front of the green and bogeyed. Fieger birdied after hitting his second shot to a foot. That enabled Fieger to pull even with Sabo again. “I didn’t have any idea what was going on behind me,” Sabo said. “I was just trying to play, hit some good shots.” He made four birdies. Williams was awarded a gift certificate worth $600. Fieger and Sabo split first and second place money, receiving $3,750 apiece. The total purse in cash and merchandise was $35,000.