Long ago an All-American golfer at the University of Florida, Scott Dunlap figured he would someday take the PGA Tour by storm.
He even had dreams about playing on multiple U.S. Ryder Cup squads.
But it took him a few trips around the world to realize plain truths about professional golf: Tournaments are hard to win, and tours are even harder to dominate.
After going 206 winless career starts on the PGA Tour — against many of those in the field this week for the 10th annual Boeing Classic — the 51-year-old from Pittsburgh finally broke through on the Champions Tour.
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Dunlap birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against 1996 PGA Championship winner Mark Brooks to earn his first career Champions Tour tournament victory at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.
Dunlap (68) and Brooks (65) both finished regulation at 16-under-par 200 before settling the score on the uphill par-5 18th hole in the fifth playoff in tournament history.
“The wait was worth it,” Dunlap said. “It’s not like I ever thought about doing anything else — I mean, I am a golfer.
“So the John Cooks, the Fred Funks, the Bernhard Langers, the Kenny Perrys, the Tom Lehmans … you know, I couldn’t beat all of them in any one tournament until this week. So, yeah, that feels pretty good.”
Dunlap had been knocking on the door of winning in the 50-and-over circuit. He was in the final group of the first full-field event in February at the Allianz Championship before shooting a final-round 76 to tie for 15th.
He was in the mix at the U.S. Senior Open in July before a final-round 77 knocked him out of Colin Montgomerie’s path to the tournament title. He tied for ninth that week.
But after firing a career-low 63 on Saturday to grab the overnight lead heading into the final round of the Boeing Classic, something just felt different, he admitted afterward — even after a slow start Sunday.
“I felt like I was going to get it going again, and this wasn’t the week where I was going to capitulate and just wander off,” Dunlap said. “I just didn’t think that was going to happen.”
He was 1-over through seven holes, and tied with playing partners Tommy Armour III and Doug Garwood at 11-under for the tournament.
But he ripped a 4-iron to the back fringe at the par-5 eighth hole, and nestled a 35-foot putt down the hill and into the back of the cup for eagle to regain sole possession of the lead.
“That putt was the spur,” he said.
He birdied No. 14 to grab a three-stroke lead. He appeared in firm control of the tournament — that is until Brooks got blistering hot down the stretch.
Brooks made six birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine. To have a chance to get into a playoff, Brooks needed to drill a 10-footer up the hill on the final hole, which he did.
“I didn’t hit it that good today,” Brooks said, “but I played good golf today.”
Dunlap had a chance to win it in regulation, but his 10-foot birdie bid on the final hole slid by on the left side.
Whether he knew it or not, on paper Dunlap appeared to be in a tough position in a playoff. His opponent — Brooks — had won four of his seven PGA Tour tournaments in extra holes.
And Brooks had the best overall score on the 18th hole — 4-under — for the week.
Was Dunlap disappointed to be in a playoff after leading much of Sunday?
“I don’t have the luxury of being disappointed,” Dunlap said. “I didn’t drop a shot since the sixth hole and played 5-under from there in. I would say I did what I needed to do (to win).”
But with Brooks starting at a second shot out of a fairway bunker, Dunlap airmailed a 3-wood approach from 245 yards in the fairway that not only rolled to the back fringe of the green, it retreated off a hill and nestled within 6 feet of the hole.
“I couldn’t see anything,” Dunlap said. “Based on how the crowd was reacting, they let me know (how far away it was).”
Brooks laid up out of the bunker, and hit a poor wedge approach on his third shot that spun back to the front of the green. His 70-footer for birdie darted right, all but ending his victory bid.
Dunlap two-putted for birdie to capture his first Champions Tour win in 16 starts. He also became the first golfer to come from Champions Tour Qualifying School and win since Esteban Toledo captured two wins last season (Insperity Championship, Montreal Championship).
“I don’t look at my career and say ‘you’ve underachieved,’ ” Dunlap said. “You do what you do. I was good enough to keep playing.”
Seattle’s Fred Couples closed with a 66 to tie for 15th at 8-under 208. Afterward, the O’Dea graduate said he expects to play in the Boeing Classic another six or seven years, even when his career on the Champions Tour winds down. “(Seattle) is where I grew up. It is the only place I really know,” Couples said. “I will always come here and play.” Couples also noted he will try and qualify for next year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. … Blaine club professional Jeff Coston, who made it into the field this week after Andy Bean withdrew Monday, shot a final-round 72 to tie for 32nd at 4-under 208. He earned $12,628. ... An interesting Boeing Classic streak was kept alive Sunday — an eagle on the drivable par-4 14th hole over “Bear’s Canyon.” Robin Freeman made a putt from just off the green for eagle, extending that streak to all 10 tournaments. … Defending champion John Riegger tied for 42nd at 1-under 215. … Rocco Mediate made 22 birdies in three rounds, a tournament record. Jack Ferenz (2006) and Tom Kite (2008) had the previous mark of 21. … Boeing announced last week it will extend its sponsorship of this tournament through 2016.