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Browne bags a major

Floridian holds off O’Meara for biggest win of career

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    Olin Browne poses with the Francis D. Ouimette Memorial Trophy after winning the 2011 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club. Browne finished 15 under par

    The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
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  • browne-celebrates-victory-08-01-2011

    Olin Browne thrusts his arms into the air after sinking his birdie putt on the 18th hole, securing the U.S. Senior Open championship. Browne sat atop the leaderboard the entire week at Inverness Club.

    THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY
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browne-celebrates-victory-08-01-2011

Olin Browne thrusts his arms into the air after sinking his birdie putt on the 18th hole, securing the U.S. Senior Open championship. Browne sat atop the leaderboard the entire week at Inverness Club.

THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY
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Olin Browne's putt climbed up the ridge on the 18th green, curved left, and dropped right into the middle of the cup.

After a week of downplaying his outstanding play and burying his emotions, Browne raised his arms triumphantly as he roared in exhilaration to the heavens.

For the first time in his career, the 52-year-old Floridian was a major champion.

Browne's birdie on the 72nd hole didn't win him the U.S. Senior Open Sunday. It was just the exclamation point on a stellar week that saw him lead from start to finish at Inverness Club for his first win on the Champions Tour.

Entering the day with a two-stroke advantage on Mark O'Meara, Browne shot even-par 71 in the final round and finished at 15-under 269, which was three better than O'Meara after he carded a disappointing 72.

"I was jumpy [Sunday]," said Browne, who takes home a $500,000 winner's check and gets his name inscribed on the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy. "I told my wife [Pam] this morning that my stomach was churning a little bit, and as much as I tried to settle down, I guess it carried over because I couldn't play a lick on the front nine.

"But I knew that if I stayed patient that I could settle into the round and find a way to be there at the end."

Mark Calcavecchia wound up alone in third at 11-under after his comeback bid fizzled on the back nine, and he ended up shooting 69 in the final round. Hale Irwin and Joey Sindelar finished another shot back in a tie for fourth.

Although none of those three really posed much of a threat to Browne, O'Meara had numerous chances to steal away the championship.

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O'Meara, winner of the 1998 Masters and British Open, was breathing down Browne's neck for much of the final round, but Browne remained steady while his competition faltered on the back nine.

Tied with Browne at 14-under after 12 holes, O'Meara snap hooked his drive into the left rough behind a pine tree on the par-4 13th and eventually made bogey while Browne made par.

O'Meara dropped another shot on the par-4 16th after chunking his second shot from the fairway. He had to settle for another bogey while Browne again made par.

"I certainly had a chance to win, and I didn't get it done," O'Meara said. "But I'm happy for Olin. He played well, and my hat's off to him."

Despite stumbling late, O'Meara got off to a solid start in the final round.

On the par-4 1st, he hit a 9-iron to 12 feet and drained his birdie putt to shrink Browne's lead to just one barely 15 minutes into their round.

By the time they walked off the par-5 4th, the pair was tied after O'Meara sank a three-footer for birdie following his second shot from the fairway that landed on the front fringe.

Yet it was O'Meara, not the admittedly nervous Browne, who went bogey-birdie-bogey over the next three holes.

At the same time, Browne kept sinking par putt after par putt, although he finally showed his first sign of wavering on the par-5 8th when he three-putted after missing the fairway on his first and second shots.

"I couldn't hit a fairway on the front nine, and I was struggling the whole nine," Browne said.

The closest Browne came to a major championship before Sunday was a tie for fifth at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional. His next best finish came at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 when he finished tied for 23rd after entering the final round in a tie for second, so he didn't exactly have a lot of previous good experiences to rely on to guide him home.

What proved to be the antidote for his nerves was going back to the steady, reliable style of play he had used all week -- driving the ball in the fairway and hitting the middle of greens -- and kept making pars the rest of the way until his birdie on 18.

"I just did the very best that I could," he said. "I hit as many functional shots to stay in it, not lose my patience, and not start doing stupid stuff."

Instead, it was O'Meara who wilted on the back nine, and Browne got to take the champion's stroll up 18 -- a walk he's been waiting to take all his life.

"It was just a hard day," Browne said. "I didn't get ahead of myself and I didn't get frustrated, and I just knew that everybody was going to struggle {Sunday]. I mean, it's just that kind of a venue and that kind of a championship.

"I was patient, and I managed to push through it."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.

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