Rob Wilkin didn’t have to say a word to show how much winning the Watson Challenge meant to him.
An emphatic embrace of his wife, Cristi, after walking off the green of the 11th hole Sunday at Hallbrook Country Club told the whole story.
Wilkin outlasted Watson through a sudden-death playoff that lasted five holes, winning the event for the first time.
“It’s exciting,” said Wilkin, the head professional at Heritage Park Golf Course. “I’ve played a long time in Kansas City and won a lot with this section, but this is a big tournament that I’ve never won. I’m glad I finally got my name on that list.”
After Sunday evolved into a two-man race for most of the day, it only seemed appropriate that Watson and Wilkin would head to a playoff. Both players finished at 5-under 211 for the tournament and stood atop the leader board all three days.
In the playoff, each player had two chances to win but neither could sink birdie putts. Wilkin earned the championship after Watson missed a putt for par.
“Credit goes to Rob,” Watson said. “He has maybe been the best player in Kansas City for 20 years. He’s had the best record here. He’s played on PGA Tour events and now on Senior PGA events. Any time you’re in a tournament with Rob Wilkin you’re looking on the scoreboard for his name.”
Wilkin began the day with a 1-stroke lead over Watson, but that quickly vanished after Watson hit an ace on the second hole.
“I didn’t hit it particularly solid. I kind of watched it, it took a hard bounce, kept on rolling, rolling and all of a sudden it disappeared in the hole,” Watson said. “It was kind of a lucky shot, but sometimes you have to go with the lucky bounces because you’re going to get a lot of bad bounces.”
Wilkin said Watson’s hole in one was a joy to watch, and actually helped calm his final-round nerves.
“Who else but Tom? The crowd erupts and what a perfect thing it was,” he said. “It kind of took some pressure off. I could relax a little bit and just fight my way back.”
The duo traded the lead a few times throughout the day. Watson led entering 17, then had a bogey that brought him back to 5-under and even with Wilkin.
Watson struggled with his putting down the stretch, three-putting the last two holes and doing the same on the fifth playoff hole.
“The putting stroke kind of failed me,” he said. “It was the culprit for me coming down the stretch. But I think we put on a good show. Five extra holes is always an extra bonus when you’re playing in a golf tournament.”
Wilkin noted that taking part in a playoff with a player who has won eight major championships and is a World Golf Hall of Famer marked an experience he’ll never forget.
“I’m a competitor, but it’s Tom Watson,” he said. “He’s one of the top five golfers of all time. He’s been my idol forever. So playing with him yesterday and today, and then play five more is tremendous.”