By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SNOQUALMIE — After missing an 8-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, Jay Don Blake was waiting to shake the hand of Mark O’Meara, who seemed poised to win the Boeing Classic with a 6-foot birdie try of his own.
Instead O’Meara also missed his putt, sending the playoff to a second extra hole, and this time Blake left nothing to chance. After a drive to the middle of the fairway and an approach just beyond the green on the par-5, 498-yard 18th hole, Blake chipped to 6 inches and tapped in for a birdie — O’Meara took another par — for a Sunday afternoon victory at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.
The win was the third on the Champions Tour in the last two seasons for the 53-year-old Blake, and was worth $300,000. He and O’Meara both had 4-under-par 68s on Sunday, and both finished 54 holes of regulation play at 10-under 206.
“Every victory is pretty special,” said the soft-spoken Blake.
Though other Champions Tour players have more career wins, “I feel like I can compete when I’m playing well,” he added. “I don’t feel like I’m intimidated by the players out here. There’s a lot of talent, but I just feel like if I play my game I can be in the hunt.”
Blake generally has an even-keel demeanor on the golf course, but his nerves were tested in the playoff. “I was churning inside quite a bit,” he admitted, but he also had the mindset “that whatever happens, happens. I was just trying to do the best I can, and today I ended up on top,” he said.
O’Meara, meanwhile, settled for the runner-up paycheck of $176,000, A nice consolation prize, no question, though he was kicking himself for a win that got away.
“I had a putt and a chance to win (on the first playoff hole), and I didn’t hit a very good putt,” he said. “I don’t like finishing second, to be honest with you. There’s not much to say, other than it’s very disappointing.
“Jay Don hit some good shots in the playoff,” O’Meara added, “and he deserved to win.”
A playoff seemed almost a certainty midway through Sunday’s round, which was contested under hazy, sunny skies. At that point there were nine players within one shot of the lead, and three more just two shots back.
But over the final nine holes, one player after another slipped off the pace. Blake, in the second-to-last threesome, was the first player in the clubhouse at 206, with O’Meara following minutes later. The last player with a chance to join the playoff was Willie Wood, who needed an eagle on the final hole to tie Blake and O’Meara, but instead finished with a birdie.
Unlike O’Meara, who had a stellar PGA Tour career with 16 victories (including the 1998 Masters and British Open), Blake won just once on the regular tour, the 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open. He struggled to get a foothold on the Champions Tour, but his two wins last season mean he no longer has to endure Monday qualifying for the tour’s weekly events.
“I’ve really worked hard on my game,” said Blake, whose caddy this week was his wife Marci. “And knowing you’re going to be able to play every week, it’s a lot easier. … When I did play in tournaments (in previous years), I felt like I was able to compete and that I could win. It was like, just give me a chance. But it’s paid off.”
Blake has one other career distinction of note. In 2004, his mother died the morning of the final round of the Boaz Allen Classic. He decided to play, and he honored his mother by shooting an 85 — he purposely missed putt after putt over the final few holes to raise his score — which was her age when she died.
“I wasn’t trying to be comical or disrespectful,” said Blake, who choked up when he related the story Sunday. Though PGA Tour officials were initially angry with Blake, “it meant a lot to me.”
Third place Sunday went to Wood, who was coming off a victory in last week’s Champions Tour event in Endicott, N.Y. He earned $144,000 after finishing at 9-under 207.
Second-round leader Tom Jenkins, who was trying to become the oldest Champions Tour winner in history at 64, faded badly in his final round. He finished the day with a 6-over 78 and tied for 21st at 3-under 213.
The day’s most forgettable moment belonged to Fred Funk, who began the day at 4-under 140. On the par-3 13th hole, Funk ended up with a 12 after a series of mis-hits, drops and more mis-hits. He finished the day with a 16-over 88 and the tournament at 12-over 288, alone in 76th place.
Sunday’s crowd was 28,000, according to tournament officials, pushing the total for the week to 81,000, a record for the eight-year event. … Sunday’s playoff was fourth for the Boeing Classic in eight years. … Thirty-six of the 79 players who finished the tournament came in under par, compared to 22 a year ago.