When the final round of the Champions Tour event at Gwinnett’s TPC Sugarloaf began, 26 players were within five strokes of 36-hole leader Stephen Ames, who was winless in 48 starts since turning 50 in 2014.
When Ames chipped in for birdie on the par-4 seventh, he moved to 4-under for the day and 13-under for the tournament and had distanced himself from all but two of his pursuers, both of whom were still within two of Ames’ lead after comparably hot starts.
But when both his primary challengers made double bogeys at the par-4 ninth, the toughest hole at Sugarloaf, Ames’ advantage over them increased to four shots.
Bernhard Langer, who won the inaugural Greater Gwinnett Classic in 2013 and has been the Champions Tour’s top player since he turned 50 almost a decade ago, trimmed Ames’ lead to two as the leader was making the turn, but that was as close as anyone would get.
Langer failed to birdie the par-5 18th and Ames carded back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14 to build his lead back to four, and he never wavered down the stretch.
A final round 66 gave Ames a tournament record 15-under 201 total and a 4-stroke margin over Langer, who placed second at Sugarloaf for the third time in the last four years. Langer’s 65 was the low round of the day, but he could not completely compensate for a 73 the day before that left him five behind Ames after 36 holes.
Fred Funk, who closed with a 66, tied for third at 206 with David Frost, who shot 68 in the final round, and Brandt Jobe, whose closing 70 consisted of 17 pars and an eagle on the par-5 10th.
Defending champion Woody Austin shot 68 Sunday to tie for sixth at 207 with Kevin Sutherland, one of Ames’ two closest pursuers whose challenge ended at the ninth. An errant drive cost Sutherland a double bogey, and he played the back nine in even par for a 71.
Playing in the final group with Ames, long-time Atlanta resident Billy Andrade was only two off the lead after playing his first eight holes Sunday in 3-under. But his tee shot on the narrow ninth clipped a tree branch and left him a much longer approach to the green than usual. His second shot came up short and right and wound up in the hazard guarding the green, also resulting in a double bogey.
Andrade shot 3-over on the back nine without a birdie and dropped to a tie for 18th at 210, a disappointing finish in his hometown event. He closed with a 74, but was not alone among the players closest to Ames after 36 holes.
Of the 13 players within two shots of Ames’ lead heading into the final round, only Frost broke 70 on Sunday. Bob Tway, who attended high school in Cobb County, led after an opening round 65 and was just one back of Ames after 36 holes. But he faded to 27th with a final round 76. Marco Dawson, who was two off the lead going to Sunday, shot 78 and plummeted into a tie for 46th.
That left the tournament with little drama after Sutherland and Andrade self-destructed at the ninth, with Ames preserving his lead with some mistake-free golf after he was forced to scramble for par at the ninth after a wayward tee shot.
Like previous Gwinnett Champions Tour winners Olin Browne and Austin, Ames was a reasonably successful PGA Tour player, winning four times in his 17-year career, most notably the 2006 Players. A native of Trinidad and Tobago and a Canadian resident for much of his professional career, Ames spent several years on the European Tour after competing on the Ben Hogan (now Web.com) Tour during its first three seasons from 1990-92, winning in ’91.
Ames was in his early 30s when he joined the PGA Tour in 1998 after finishing fifth in the ’97 British Open and tying for third at Q-school later that year. Although he won four times (including the Players and Western Open) and earned almost $20 million during his PGA Tour career, Ames was perhaps best known for the record-setting defeat he suffered against Tiger Woods in the opening round of the 2006 Match Play Championship after making a comment about how vulnerable an opponent Woods might be.
One month later, however, Ames scored an impressive 6-shot victory in the Players, his career highlight.
In his first four Champions Tour starts this season, Ames had posted a pair of top 10s, but had not produced a finish better than his fourth place at Sugarloaf in 2015 since joining the tour late in the 2014 season.
The first round belonged to Tway, who is winless on the Champions Tour since turning 50 in 2009. Tway holed out for eagle on the par-4 12th (his third hole of the day), shot 6-under 30 on the back nine and was headed for a possible course tournament record until bogeys at 7 and 9 left him with a 7-under 65.
Ames was just 1-under for the day after 12 holes, but eagled the short par-4 13th and went on to shoot 67 to trail Tway by just two. Ames was one of a sizeable number of players battling for the 36-hole lead on Saturday, and prevented what would have been a 6-way tie for first place at the end of the day when he birdied the par-5 18th for a 68 and a 9-under 135 total.
Tway, Sutherland, Jobe, Andrade and Perry were tied for second at 136, with Perry firing a tournament low 64. Perry had a chance to avenge his 2008 playoff loss at Sugarloaf in the final PGA Tour event played at the course, but settled for a final round 72 that ended with a 3-putt bogey on the 18th. Perry lost the 2008 playoff when his second shot to the 18th collided with a tree short and right of the green, with the impact sending the ball across the green and into the pond off the left edge. The tree has since been removed.
Ames collected $270,000 from the purse of$1.6 million, with the tournament sponsored by Mitsubishi Electric.
Andrade was low among the Georgia contingent in the tournament, and went 44 holes without a bogey until he went double bogey-bogey-bogeys on holes 9, 10 and 11 in the third round. A second round 66 got him within one of Ames’ lead after 36 holes, and he was 3-under after eight holes the final day before going 5-over for the last 10.
Savannah’s Gene Sauers, the 2016 U.S. Senior Open champion, tied for 27th at 212 after carding eight birdies in a final round 66. A second round 75 dropped Sauers down the leader board.
Tying for 39th at 214 was Augusta’s Scott Parel and Augusta native and Columbus resident Larry Mize. Parel was a contender midway through the second round, but played his last six holes Saturday in 2-over, and needed three birdies on his last eight holes Sunday for a 73.
Coming off a made cut in the Masters the previous week, the 58-year-old Mize was among the first round leaders at Sugarloaf with a 67, and made a move early Saturday with an eagle at the par-5 fourth. But he did not have another under par score on a hole until he birdied the 18th Sunday, shooting 73-74 the final two days.
Long-time Duluth resident Scott Dunlap had a tough week in his hometown event, tying for 69th at 221. He shot 76 the first day, never recovering after making a triple bogey on the par-4 fifth.
Marietta’s Larry Nelson, who turns 70 in September, shot 223 and tied for 72nd.
For a change, the tournament was played all three days under beautiful weather conditions, but after an interesting second round on Saturday, there was little excitement Sunday as Ames was in complete control the entire final nine.