AKRON: In one of the most intense and tightly contested Ohio Senior Opens in recent memory Bob Sowards, PGA prevailed once again.
The soon-to-be 54-year old rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole at Firestone Country Club to defeat Cincinnati’s Sam Arnold, PGA and become the first man to win four consecutive Senior Open titles in the 37th playing of the event sponsored by Michelob Ultra and conducted by the Northern Ohio Section of the Professional Golfers Association of America. Presenting Sponsors were Invited (formerly Club Corp), Firestone Country Club, and House of LaRose.
Sowards (67-68) and Arnold (70-65) finished regulation play tied at 5-under 135, necessitating the first playoff in this tournament since 2018.
Arnold, PGA General Manager of The Vineyard Golf Course, reached the playoff with a stunning final nine holes in which he shot 4-under 31, which included two birdies on his final four holes.
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At one point late in the day at least six players were in contention, including eventual third-place finisher Mitch Camp, PGA (69-67-136), amateurs Michael Kelley (70-67—137) and Firestone member Howard Clendenin (69-69-138) and Perrysburg’s Mike Stone, PGA (70-70-140).
Arnold, 50, began the day as one of four players tied for 10th place, three shots behind Sowards, but turned in the tournament’s lowest round to climb up the leaderboard. At one point he was alone on top at 5-under as Sowards suffered three consecutive lip-outs on an eagle attempt on 13 and birdie chances on 14 and 15.
“I really thought I had made that eagle putt on 13 (from about 45 feet) and I thought I made every putt coming down the stretch,” said Sowards, who joins NOPGA Hall-of-Famer Gary Robison as only four-time winners. “I hit perfect putts every time but they are just so difficult to read. The greens are perfect but they’re just so difficult to read.”
Sowards, who shares the single-round tournament record with Gary Trivisonno, PGA at 7-under 63, finally got a birdie putt to fall on the par-5 17th and it couldn’t have come at a better time. His 8-footer enabled him to pull into a tie with Arnold at 5-under.
“I saw Sam was at 5-under and I knew I needed to get there,” he said. “I finally made one.”
Kelley, one of three runner-ups last year, also briefly held the lead at 4-under when he birdied three out of his first five holes on the back nine.
Camp, winner of this tournament in 2009 and the Director of Golf at Club Walden, also caught fire on the back nine. After making the turn at 1-over, Camp birdied the 11th, and eagled the par-5 13th to get to 2-under. Two more birdies, on the 132-yard 14th and the 208-yard 16th got him to 4-under. A birdie attempt on the 18th just slipped by the hole, leaving him one stroke shy of the playoff.
Sowards, who had won his three previous titles by seven, four and two shots, got off to a slow start with two bogeys in his first six holes. A nifty bunker shot enabled him to save par on the 166-yard seventh and he finished his front nine with birdies on eight and nine to get back to 3-under.
“Eight is a tough hole and that birdie was huge,” said Sowards, who plans on playing in the 101st Ohio Open at the end of the month. “That really helped me get things turned around.”
Arnold, who defeated Sowards in the SOPGA Senior Match Play finals earlier this season, got in trouble on the playoff when his drive on the 506-yard 17th missed the fairway on the right and almost reached the parallel 18th fairway, making it difficult to get home.
Meanwhile, Sowards hit a perfect drive and reached the front edge of the green on his second. He chipped it to a dangerous pin location and made his putt after Arnold had left his third and fourth shots short.
While four straight victories might seem like mundane stuff it is held in high regard by Sowards, whose name once again will be inscribed on one of the championship rocks outside the clubhouse.
“To come out on top here, against such a quality field is a fantastic feeling,” he said. “It’s an honor to win at Firestone. I love the course and I love the tournament. I’ve been fortunate enough to play well here every year. It’s an honor to win at Firestone and get my name on that rock again.”
Ed Steiber, an amateur from Cincinnati, won the Senior Plus Division by five shots with a two-day total of 68-70—138. Perrysburg amateur Terry Tyson was second at 73-70—143.
Tim is a Contributing Writer for the Northern Ohio PGA. Award-winning golf writer and sports reporter for the Plain Dealer, now retired. Contributor to the Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, AP, other national publications.