By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SNOQUALMIE — Pursued by players with more experience and wins in professional golf, John Riegger had every reason to be nervous during Sunday’s final round of the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.
Except he wasn’t.
“Nobody can put pressure on you,” Riegger pointed out, minutes after closing with a 4-under-par 68 for a two-stroke victory. “The only person that can put pressure on you is yourself. … I was very calm and composed all day long.”
In his fifth Champions Tour start since turning 50 in June, Riegger held off some of pro golf’s most notable names — among them, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, John Cook and Seattle native Fred Couples — to finish with a 15-under total of 201 to claim the first-place prize of $300,000.
The paycheck was the largest of his pro golf career, and exceeded his earnings for any single year in pro golf except 2001 to 2004 on the PGA Tour.
Under mostly overcast skies with occasional periods of light rain, Riegger began the day with a three-stroke margin over four players, including playing partners Langer and Lehman. Langer made an earlycharge and actually seized the lead with five birdies over the first eight holes, but he stumbled on the second nine and Riegger was able to slip back in front.
“When you’re playing with great players like Tom and Bernhard, they’re not going to be intimidated by John Riegger,” Riegger said with a smile. “So I just went about my own business. … I’ve been working really hard and it showed today.”
Down the stretch, the top challengers were Cook and Couples. Both shot 6-under 66, tying for the low round of the day, and Cook’s birdie on No. 18 left him just one shot behind Riegger.
Playing in the final group, Riegger needed only a par on the last hole to win. And with Cook watching from an overlook by the scorer’s tent, Riegger’s tee shot found a fairway bunker on the par-5, 498-yard hole, forcing him to lay up with his second shot and then chip to the center of the green with his third.
From 20 feet, Riegger was trying to coax the ball close to the hole for a winning two-putt par, “but sometimes when you do that it goes in,” he said. “And I knew 2 feet from the hole that it was going in.”
Riegger’s best finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for fifth at the 2006 John Deere Classic. His only two pro wins came on the then-Nationwide Tour in 2007 and 2010.
Moreover, Riegger had to go to last fall’s Champions Tour qualifying school just to earn the chance to play this season. With five spots up for grabs, he had to shoot a 66 in the final of four rounds to get into a playoff, and he then earned the fifth and final spot on the third playoff hole.
“There’s a whole heck of a lot more pressure in that situation than there was in the situation I was today,” Riegger said. “And that helped me. … Everything in my career has prepared me for this moment.
And it’s been a long, crazy career. I’m just so thankful to be in the position I’m in right now.”
“There were a lot of winners behind him,” Cook said of Riegger. “So for him to come out and do what he did down the stretch is very commendable. … It’s nice to see good people win that have struggled through their playing careers. It’s not easy out here and it never has been, so to win on any level of professional (golf) is quite commendable.”
Couples called his seven-birdie, one-bogey round “a nice finish. I (missed) a couple of putts (Sunday), but not many. I made most of them, and that’s about as good as I could’ve shot.”
As disappointed as he was not to win, Couples enjoyed being back in the Seattle area where he remains a huge fan favorite. “It’s always fun,” he said. “I really enjoy the tournament. … And dinner will taste better after a good round.”
Sunday’s attendance was 30,000, tying the tournament record for a final-day crowd, and the three-day total of 86,000 is a new record. … Defending champion Jay Don Blake finished tied for 15th with a 6-under total of 210. … Kirk Triplett, who grew up in Pullman, finished with an even-par 72 and tied for 12th at 8-under 208. … Seattle native Rick Fehr capped a disappointing tournament with a 6-over-78, putting him in last place at 16-over 232. … The Boeing Company announced it is extending its title sponsorship of the tournament through 2016.