By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Michael Allen had that “been there, done that” feeling at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic. Except this time, there was a twist to the “done that” part.
A year ago, Allen left the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic second-best when Fred Couples made birdie on the final hole of the tournament.
On Sunday, Allen once again thought that fate wasn’t on his side. This time, it was Bernhard Langer with a chance to overhaul Allen down the stretch. The way the tournament was unfolding, Allen was expecting the worst.
Allen missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole to leave the door open. But the ubiquitous Langer couldn’t step through it and Allen, 12 months later, had made amends at Fallen Oak. Allen closed with a final-round 5-under 67 to win by one shot over Langer.
“I was pretty happy that I was able to get this win here finally, even though I didn't bring it home as strong as I would have liked,” Allen said.
But the bottom line is that Allen is back in the Champions Tour winner’s circle.
The victory was Allen’s fourth on the Champions Tour. He has won three times in a calendar year. The two victories last year came at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf (with David Frost) and the Encompass Insurance Pro-Am of Tampa Bay. In addition, he had seven other top-five finishes which simply means there’s no limit to the kind of year it could have been for Allen with one more make here, one less miss there.
Allen’s off-season preparations were designed to use those victories, and all those high finishes, as building blocks for an even bigger campaign in 2013. The victory at Fallen Oak is a validation for Allen that he’s on track after a balky start. It began to change with his first top 10 a week earlier at the Toshiba Classic.
“My game feels great,” he said. “I enjoy the off-season, just exercising, working on getting my body (ready), so I can live a healthy life, No. 1. And so far this year's kind of been a disappointing start. I wasn't in very good form early in the year. So I had those three weeks off, and I worked really hard to try and get my game back and really start playing well.
“The last two weeks have been a lot better. I've played very nicely and really look forward to moving forward positively the rest of the year.”
The Champions Tour has another break in the schedule until the new Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Georgia, April 19-21. That will undoubtedly give Allen more time to work on his game.
Allen took on the challenges of a difficult day at Fallen Oak. Four golfers were tied atop the leaderboard after 36 holes so the chasers, like Allen, had plenty of work to do. He set the tone by making five birdies on the front nine, eight total.
“I felt very controlled in my game,” Allen said. “I was playing beautifully, hitting shots where I was trying to, and we were judging the wind very well for the most part. I was feeling pretty good. I was almost feeling like I could get a (victory) cigar out and walk down 18 like I did a few years ago.”
It wasn’t that simple. It seldom is on the Champions Tour where the competition continues to be fierce. There have been five different winners in five events this year, and countless contenders each and every week.
After the final round and what he described as “a few little mistakes,” Allen found himself on the practice tee hitting some shots to keep loose while awaiting the outcome and Langer’s final shots at victory.
“Gotta put some levity to it,” Allen said. “We stood out there and just kind of thought, ‘What are you going to do?’ Just kind of talked and had a good time, warmed up a little bit, trying to keep loose in case we went back for a playoff. It was nice to sit there and listen to the tournament. And it was nicer to hear no big roar and (experience) the disappointment again.
“I know I had played great all day. I had fun all day. So finishing second is probably not the worst thing that happens in life. But you know, you put so much into it and played so well … It has its emotional ups and downs without question.”
Allen has made 63 starts on the Champions Tour, dating back to his winning debut at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship at Canterbury Golf Club in Cleveland. At Canterbury, he capitalized on a sponsor’s exemption to get into the field and became the 14th player to win a Champions Tour debut.
Since that event, he’s been regarded as one of those players with an opportunity to win multiple events annually and over his Champions Tour career add some more major titles. Nobody would be surprised if it happened this year.