GLENVIEW, Ill. — Craig Stadler birdied four of the first six holes Sunday, then hung on to win the Encompass Championship by one stroke over Fred Couples by sinking a par-saving 12-foot putt on the final hole.
Stadler's eight years and almost nine months between victories is the longest stretch in Champions Tour history. J.C. Snead had gone almost seven years between titles from 1995 to 2002.
Stadler shot 1-under-par 71 at North Shore Country Club to finish at 13-under 203. Couples' final-round 66 put him at 12 under, but he bogeyed the final hole.
Mark O'Meara, Bernhard Langer, David Frost and Jeff Sluman were among seven players tied for third at 205.
The 60-year-old Stadler held a five-stroke lead on Couples at the turn after birdieing the first, second, fifth and sixth holes. He appeared to be cruising to victory until stumbling beginning at the ninth. Bogeys at the 12th, 14th and 15th followed, but after hitting his approach into a greenside bunker on the 18th, he recovered to 12 feet and sank the curling putt for victory.
Couples birdied his first three holes, going out in 5-under 31, but had gained only one stroke on Stadler at the turn. He got up within a stroke of the lead until that bogey at the par-4 18th.
O'Meara birdied the par-3 17th to jump to 11 under and finished with a
68. Langer, among the first-round leaders, posted a 69, while Frost bogeyed the final hole to score 70 for his 205. Sluman squandered birdie chances down the stretch en route to a 71.
Stadler hadn't scored an individual top-10 since tying for seventh in last year's 3M Championship. Working with teacher Billy Harmon beginning three months ago helped bring Stadler's game back to championship level.
"I missed every putt on the back nine and finally made one that counted," Stadler said.
Stadler began to diminish his lead on the par-4 ninth when his approach flew over the green and he stubbed the subsequent chip shot. He two-putted from 12 feet for bogey.
As Couples birdied the 11th and 14th to jump to 13 under, Stadler was missing three straight fairways and sliding to 14 under. But Couples failed to convert birdie chances on three late holes, then bogeyed the 18th from the middle of the fairway.
"I just kind of shanked it," Couples said of his wedge approach into a bunker. "It was really a bad swing on as easy a shot as you'll ever have."
Final-round charges by Langer and Mark Calcavecchia brought them closer to Stadler, but not so close that they threatened the lead. Calcavecchia was 12 under with four holes to play, but bogeyed three of the last four holes to finish tied for 10th.