UPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio — A decade after battling a rare illness that nearly killed him and kept him off the golf course for seven years, Gene Sauers celebrated his first victory on the senior tour.
Sauers closed with 1-under 69 and took advantage of another collapse by Miguel Angel Jimenez to win the rain-delayed U.S. Senior Open on Monday.
The 53-year-old from Georgia finished with three straight pars to go from a one-shot deficit to a one-shot victory over Jimenez and Billy Mayfair at Scioto Country Club. He finished with 3-under 277 for the tournament.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," he said. "It's been a long time, and I'm at a loss for words right now."
The victory caps an amazing comeback for Sauers 10 years removed from nearly dying. He was incorrectly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, spent seven weeks in the hospital and was given a 25 percent chance of survival. Eventually he was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare disorder of the skin and mucous membranes that causes the skin on the extremities to burn from the inside out.
Some days, he couldn't even get off the couch.
"It means the world to me," he said. "I saw the light at the end of that tunnel, and I was heading there. The good Lord stopped me and backed me up and said, no, you're not done yet. It's just unbelievable to not play golf, not touch a golf club for seven years and to come out and to win a major golf tournament on a hard golf course."
Jimenez had a one-shot lead going into the final round but let a lead slip away for the third straight tournament. He double-bogeyed the second hole, and Sauers birdied to overtake him. Jimenez regained the lead with birdie on the 15th hole, a two-shot swing when Sauers made bogey, only to bogey No. 17.
They were tied on the 18th, but Jimenez missed the green and made a second straight bogey. Sauers made a 5-foot par putt to win.