LUTZ — Nick Price figured a nice, safe round of par 71 on Sunday would be enough to win the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am. That was his winning score, but it was anything but nice and safe.
Price survived a roller-coaster round that included three double bogeys, a bogey and seven birdies to fend off Larry Nelson by two shots at TPC Tampa Bay. The win was Price's first in 39 Champions Tour events and snapped a 111 tournament victory drought, which includes PGA Tour events.
Price, 52, is the first in Champions Tour history to win with three double bogeys in his final round.
"I'm absolutely dumbfounded," said Price, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. "I never play like that. I might make five or six bogeys, but I never make three double bogeys. Things are supposed to get easier when you get older. They're getting harder."
Price started the day birdieing two of the first three holes to get to 11 under. Then came an errant tee shot that found water and led to double-bogey 6 on No. 4. He birdied his third par 4, No. 5. Then a bad tee shot led to double-bogey 7 at No. 7. A birdie on par-4 No. 9 salvaged the front nine at par 35.
"I took my medicine," Price said of the double bogeys. "I just had to refocus. I birdied the (fifth) hole. That's immediate recovery. I came right back and didn't let it affect me. Then I made the worst swing I've made all week on No. 7. I've just never done this before. I can't explain it."
The back nine started poorly, with bogey 5 on No. 10 and double bogey on the par-3 11th hole. His tee shot on 11 was so far right that it landed deep in the woods near the green. He trailed Nelson by a shot with seven holes to play.
"Even with all the problems, I still had a chance to win," Price said. "You've got to keep plugging away. That's what I did."
He regrouped and birdied 13, 14 and 15 to reclaim the lead. When Nelson, the first-day leader, bogeyed 17 and Price sank a clutch 5-foot par putt, he took a two-shot cushion to the final hole. From there, his strategy was to keep the ball as far from the water on the right as possible.
"I tried to avoid it like the plague," said Price, who parred the par-4 18th in all three rounds. "I played that hole pretty well for a guy with a two-shot lead."
Three off the lead entering Sunday, Nelson put pressure on Price right away. He eagled the first hole, draining a 135-yard pitching wedge. But bogeys on four of his last 10 holes doomed Nelson, who won the tournament in 1999.
"I left some shots out there," said Nelson, 61. "But then you don't hole it out every day either, so it probably evened out. There are some shots I'd love to have back. My tee shot on 13 is one. You got 70 yards of fairway out there, and I hit it into the right bunker. And then the bogey on 17.
"But with the way I played this week, it gives me confidence that I can do this two or three more times this season."
While Price struggled, Loren Roberts pulled to within a stroke before settling for third with 4-under 67. Lonnie Nielsen (70) and Hal Sutton, who followed Saturday's 64 with 69, also finished third. Jay Haas made a run before bogeying two of the final four holes to finish sixth with 68-68-72. Two-time defending champion Tom Watson tied for 47th.
Price, a Zimbabwean citizen who lives in Hobe Sound, is the third first-time winner on the tour this year. And he is the sixth player to claim his first tour victory in the Tampa Bay area.
The three-time major winner said he has never had to work harder to get a victory.
"When you make three double bogeys, you've normally shot yourself in both feet, not just one," Price said. "To make three double bogeys and a bogey and shoot even par, I mean, I don't play golf like this. My whole career I've never played golf like this. It's new territory. I hope it doesn't happen again.
"I'm spent. I'm going to sleep like a dead person tonight."