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UPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio (AP) — A decade after battling a rare illness that nearly killed him and kept him off the golf course for seven years, Gene Sauers celebrated his first victory on the senior tour.
Sauers closed with a 1-under 69 and took advantage of another collapse by Miguel Angel Jimenez to win the rain-delayed U.S. Senior Open on Monday.
The 53-year-old from Georgia finished with three straight pars to go from a one-shot deficit to a one-shot victory over Jimenez and Billy Mayfair at Scioto Country Club. He finished with a 3-under 277 for the tournament.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," he said. "It's been a long time, and I'm at a loss for words right now."
The victory caps an amazing comeback for Sauers 10 years removed from nearly dying. He was incorrectly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, spent seven weeks in the hospital and was given a 25 percent chance of survival. Eventually he was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare disorder of the skin and mucous membranes that causes the skin on the extremities to burn from the inside out.
Some days, he couldn't even get off the couch.
"It means the world to me," he said. "I saw the light at the end of that tunnel, and I was heading there. The good Lord stopped me and backed me up and said, no, you're not done yet. It's just unbelievable to not play golf, not touch a golf club for seven years and to come out and to win a major golf tournament on a hard golf course."
Jimenez had a one-shot advantage going into the final round but again blew a lead. He led Sauers by a stroke to start the day but double-bogeyed the second hole, and Sauers birdied to overtake him. The Spaniard regained the lead with a birdie on the 15th hole, a two-shot swing when Sauers made bogey, only to bogey the 17th hole.
They were tied on the 18th, but Jimenez missed the green and made a second straight bogey. Sauers made a 5-foot par putt to win.
Sauers had 17 top-10 finishes in five years on the senior tour but hadn't managed a win. He last won a PGA Tour event in 2002.
Sauers now is exempt into the U.S. Open next year at Erin Hills.
"Being back to playing with these guys, it's a pleasure," he said. "I didn't think I'd ever be here. I told my wife, when I was in the hospital, I didn't think I was ever coming out. She kept me strong."
For Jimenez, it was the third consecutive tournament he let a lead slip away.
Three weeks ago at Carnoustie in the Senior British Open, the 52-year-old Spaniard took a four-stroke lead into the last day, then shot 75 and tied for third — three strokes behind winner Paul Broadhurst. Last week in the 3M Championship, he was a stroke ahead entering the final round and ended up losing when Joe Durant shot 63 and eagled the first hole of a playoff.
"I'm human, you know?" Jimenez said. "I'm going to make bogeys. I'm going to make birdies. It's the way it's coming. That moment is not on my side."
Mayfair carded four birdies against a single bogey for a 3-under 67. Ian Woosnam was the only other player under par, finishing fourth at 1-under after a 68.
"All four days we saw different golf courses," Mayfair said. "Kind of medium on Thursday. It wasn't all that bad, that windy, but it was still hard to play on Friday. Of course, Saturday the wind started blowing. It was blowing all over the place. Today it was wet and soft and hardly any wind. We got to see Scioto in four different ways on four different days."
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