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Big In Japan: Sugai Wins Senior British Open
by Brian Creighton

NEWCASTLE, Northern Ireland (AP) ? Noboru Sugai of Japan held off Canadian John Irwin for a two-shot victory in the Senior British Open Sunday as Tom Watson drifted down to joint 14th place after a closing 79.

Sugai's closing 3-over-par 74 gave him victory over fast-finishing qualifier Irwin, who shot a 70 and got within two strokes with one hole to play.

Christy O'Connor jnr, the winner in 1999 and 2000, finished third three strokes further back with John Chillas of Scotland fourth.

Barry Vivian of New Zealand, with a day's-best 68, shared fifth place with two more Japanese, Seiji Edihara and Katzunari Takahashi.

Sugai is the first Japanese to win this title.

Both Sugai and Irwin bogeyed the final hole on the Royal County Down course, Sugai for a 3-under total of 281 and Irwin for 283. They were the only players under par.

Watson's unlikely hopes of overhauling Sugai from five strokes behind overnight vanished on the second hole Sunday when he took a triple-bogey seven on the way to an outward nine of 44, nine over par.

He played the back nine in 35, one under, but did not even finish as the top American. That distinction went to David Oakley, who finished tied for 12th.

"My game wasn't up to it," Watson said. "I didn't have the putting. I was defenseless on the greens as far as making up for any missed strokes.

"I think if anything it probably got me a little bit down in the dumps as far as being able to feel I could compete on the golf course because my putting was so poor."

His troubles Sunday began on the second hole where he drove into a bunker and took three shots to get out.

"I probably played the wrong shot. I should have taken my medicine and just hit out with my sand wedge but I felt I could get the ball up a little bit quicker with the pitching wedge but I hit the lip. Then I hit the lip again."

It was 52-year-old Watson's first attempt at this title and he said it was too early to think about competing next year if, as expected, the event moves to the Scottish layout at Turnberry, where he had the first of his five British Open victories, a memorable shootout over Jack Nicklaus, in 1977.

Sugai, who began the final round six shots clear after leading every day, was ecstatic with his victory.

"I felt nervous from the first tee. This means so much. Last night, too much thinking," Sugai said.

"My plan was to stick to my game, be patient."

He birdied the first hole, parred the next six then double-bogeyed the 8th for the second day in succession.

But while Saturday he also double-bogeyed the 9th, on Sunday he made par there and when he matched Irwin's birdies on 12 and 13, he seemed safe.

But Irwin birdied the 16th and the 17th, which Sugai three-putted for bogey as his lead dwindled to two strokes.

He bunkered his drive at the par-five last hole to open the door for Irwin, but the Canadian found a bunker with his second shot. Both made six there.

"I am pleased because I finished well and second place is more than I expected coming here," Irwin said.

He missed the halfway cut when he last played the event here two years and had to qualify to get into the field this week.

"I made it close with the birdie on 17 but I drove poorly at the last. I was in the long grass and I am not Tiger Woods coming out of that grass," he said.

"Sugai played very well and is a great champion."


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