Bell Atlantic Classic
Bell Atlantic Classic
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Jenkins tops Thorpe in playoff

Twenty-four years after scoring his only PGA Tour victory here, the Philadelphia area was good again to Tom Jenkins.

Jenkins couldn't hold a one-shot lead on the final hole, but recovered to make an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole today to beat fast-finishing Jim Thorpe and win the Senior PGA Tour's Bell Atlantic Classic.

Jenkins's only two U.S. tour victories have come a few miles but nearly a quarter-century apart. He won the 1975 IVB-Philadelphia Classic, a tournament no longer held, by one shot over Johnny Miller.

"I'm excited as I can be," Jenkins said. "I stopped playing the regular tour in 1985 and, in all those years, there was always the question: 'Can you do it again?' ''

Call it a question answered.

Today marked a pair of comebacks -- for Jenkins, a non-winner for 24 years, and for Jack Nicklaus, who shot a second consecutive 70 to finish 2-under par in his first tournament since hip replacement surgery in January.

Jenkins, the fifth first-time winner on the Senior Tour this year, took a one-shot lead into the final round on a windy, rainy day at hilly Hartfeld National, and held at least a share of the lead on every hole.

Just when it seemed he would hold off Thorpe, who charged into contention with a tournament-best 7 under 65, Jenkins's second shot on the 409-yard No. 18 rolled off the two-tiered green and into the fringe.

Jenkins chipped to within 15 feet of the hole. But, with Thorpe watching in the nearby press tent, Jenkins missed the par putt to force the playoff.

Thorpe, also a non-winner on the Senior Tour, pumped his fists and said, "One for Thorpie, baby, one for Thorpie."

If bogeying No. 18 for Jenkins, 51, wasn't bad enough, he had to repeat the same hole for the playoff. He regained his nerves by driving down the middle, then avoided the mistake of 10 minutes before by hitting an iron onto the level back edge of the green, not the undulating front side that aggravated golfers all weekend.

Jenkins's winning putt, which earned him a $165,000 first-prize check and a one-year tour exemption, was strong, sure and right down the middle, as might be expected from the Senior Tour's sixth-ranked putter.

"I read it right -- right into the middle," Jenkins said.

Call it one for Jenkins, baby.

As contenders moved on and off the leaderboard all day -- as many as a half-dozen were within a stroke of the lead on the front nine -- Jenkins rarely faltered. He had two bogeys and five birdies for a final-round 69 that followed a second-round 67 and opening-round 70.

Thorpe started the day three back, but an eagle 3 on the second hole gave him hope and confidence. The former Morgan State running back and three-time PGA Tour winner missed a downhill putt on No. 17 that would have tied him with Jenkins, but he sank a 10-footer on No. 18 for his fifth birdie of the day.

The tough, hilly course and the tournament's placement between events in Las Vegas and St. Louis caused eight of the top 10 money winners to bypass Philadelphia. Thorpe said the challenging, hard-to-read Hartefeld greens -- the steepest on the tour -- only made him putt better.

"I like greens that are a little bit crazy," Thorpe said. "That way I don't mind if I miss putts."

Thorpe's second-place finish was his best since joining the Senior Tour this year. With only three top-10 finishes in 12 prior tournaments, Thorpe, 50, said, "I feel like I need to win to belong out here. Some guys come out here and win right away, and I want to win to feel like I fit in.''

Nicklaus, who needed crutches to walk barely two months ago, was pleased with his two consecutive sub-par rounds and 18th place finish. He used the Bell Atlantic as a tuneup for his own Memorial Tournament in two weeks.

"I think I was better than I expected," Nicklaus said. "I would say that what happened to me physically and what I did, it was almost an 'A.' I think my golf was about a 'C.' It wasn't exceptionally good but I don't think it was terrible."

Rocky Thompson and Gil Morgan, who putted inconsistently all day, each shot 69 to finish a shot back and tie for third.


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