It seemed like an uncanny case of deja vu as the Showdown Classic concluded late Sunday afternoon at the Jeremy Ranch Golf Club.
Here was Miller Barber, the guy who could double for Mr. Bartles in those Bartles & Jaymes TV commercials, receiving the huge cardboard check from all the guys in red and blue blazers on the 18th green; here was Barber stopping in the press tent on his way to the interview room to make a phone call to his family in Sherman, Texas; here was Barber repeating the same line about "wondering if I was ever going to win again at my age."The 57-year-old Barber captured his second straight Showdown victory Sunday at windy Jeremy Ranch with a 2-shot victory over three players, including Ben Smith, who had led the tournament from the first day right up through Sunday's 16th hole. Barber finished at 9-under-par 207 to grab the $52,500 first-place check and beat out Smith, Dick Rhyan and Orville Moody.
It was the 23rd Senior victory and third triumph at Jeremy Ranch for the man they call Mr. X. He won in 1985 with Ben Crenshaw when it was a best ball event and again last year. He also had second-place finishes in 1982 and 1984 in the tournament he now practically owns.
"I'm so happy to win here again," he said. "Winning is winning, and any time you win it's great." ' Barber fired a 2-under-par 70 as he made just two birdies to go with 16 pars. And he didn't even complain about the greens like he had the previous two days, saying, "When you win, you don't say much about those things."
After dominating the tournament for most of three days, Smith fell apart, going 5-over-par on the final 10 holes, including decisive bogeys on the final two holes.
The 54-year-old former auto mechanic, who has been a professional for less than six years, had seemed almost a sure bet to capture his first senior victory until he started hitting all his approach shots on the back nine too long and doing silly things like missing 1-foot putts.
"I hit all my bad shots today," said the disappointed Smith.
Smith finished with a 4-over 76, which was a far cry from the 66 and 67 he put on the board the fiirst two days when he threatened to lap the field.
A lot of people probably figured Smith wouldn't hold up under the final-day pressure, although most of the gallery seemed to be on his side.
He did just fine for eight holes as he improved to 12-under-par for the tournament, thanks to birdies at 1 and 3, sandwiched around a bogey at 2. But the cave-in began at the par-5 No. 9 hole - the easiest hole all week, according to PGA statistics.
Smith put his second shot at 9, a 5-iron from 190 yards, into the creek right of the green. "Ridiculous," he said of the shot. He missed his 15-footer for par, while Barber made a 10-footer after also hitting the water.
At No. 11 Smith made a nice save for par after hitting long, and at No. 12 he hit a tremendous drive, well past his playing partners. But he bladed his second shot over the green and couldn't get up and down for par, dropping to 10-under.
The wheels continued to fall off at 13 where Smith again hit long, ending up in deep grass behind and to the left of the green. However, he made a nice chip to within a foot to save par.
Smith seemed to be back on track at 14 where he hit his approach shot within 5 feet. But his birdie putt slipped by and then incredibly, so did his par putt from about 14 inches. After the miss, Smith just backed away in shock.
"It just went left," he said. "It really surprised me. It must have hit a spike mark or something."
Barber felt like Smith's troubles at 14 and his own recovery from trouble at 15 were the turning points for him.
After Smith hit into the sand trap in front of the green at 15, Barber hit his second shot, a hard 5-iron, dead left, just beyond a small pine tree.
As Barber arrived at his ball he was muttering to himself, saying, "You dumb dunce _ if you'd have had all our wits, you would have never done that."
Then after his chip shot stopped 20 feet short of the hole, he started muttering again _ this time about the soft greens, which had been a sore spot for him all week.
Meanwhile Smith blasted out within a foot of the hole and it looked like Barber was going to drop two behind. But he rapped his putt right in the center of the cup to save par.
"That was the swing point for me," said Barber.
At the par-5 16th, Smith again grabbed the advantage putting his third shot 8 feet below the hole, while Barber ended up 10 feet above it. But Barber rolled his putt in, only his second birdie of the day, while Smith slid his past.
Rhyan, who had been quietly playing well in the group ahead of Barber and Smith, had also birdied at 16 to go 4-under for the day and 9-under for the tournament. So for a brief moment, three players were tied for the lead.
At 17, Rhyan missed the green and left an 8-footer for par short. Barber hit the green, while Smith ended up just off the green pin-high in some heavy grass.
Smith proceeded to "chunk" his wedge shot, moving it only about 6 feet to the edge of the green. He then 2-putted from 35 feet for bogey.
When Barber 2-putted for par, he had the lead for the first time all tournament.
Up ahead at 18, Rhyan bogeyed again, 3-putting from 25 feet to fall to 7-under along with playing partner Moody, who had a steady 70. Charles Coody bogeyed his second straight hole to fall to 5-under.
When Smith's drive at 18 hit the middle of the fairway and Barber hit the right sand trap, a playoff looked possible. But Smith's 8-iron from 151 yards flew the green and bounced into the sand trap behind the green. Smith turned and threw his club in frustration.
"I had no chance to get the ball up and down from there," he said.
Barber after falling short of the green in 2, chipped up within 10 feet of the hole and then, only needing two putts to win, curled in a downhiller for par and a 2-shot win.
"That's the first time I've backed into anything and I definitely backed into this," said Barber. "Usually I've been the one to give tournaments to others."
Afterward Smith seemed amazingly calm despite his late collapse. Perhaps his disappointment was tempered by the $24,667 check he received, the largest of his career.
"I would have liked to have won, but I'm not unhappy with the position I finished in," he said. "I know one thing, I need a bigger lead next time."
Bruce Crampton, who went virtually unnoticed all week, parred his final nine holes and finished at 6-under-par 210 in 5th place. Coody was 6th and Al Geiberger tied Bob Rawlins for 7th after firing a 68, the best score of the day Sunday.