BELMONT — In any other week, in any other tournament, Kirk Triplett’s final-round 7-under-par 64 in the Constellation Senior Players Championship might have been good enough to hoist the hardware and collect the winner’s $405,000 purse at the end of the day.
But Sunday at Belmont Country Club, Triplett’s round was only good enough to finish runner-up at 13 under, six shots behind Bernhard Langer, who won this Champions Tour major for the second year in a row with an impressive wire-to-wire effort (19 under).
With the exponential growth of Langer’s lead from two shots (after 18 holes) to four (36 holes) and then eight (54 holes), it seemed readily apparent to the rest of the field that the Senior Players would be a race for second place.
“Oh, absolutely, and it’s not the first time this guy’s done this,’’ said Triplett, 53, of Scottsdale, Ariz., who was paired in the final round with Mark Brooks and Joe Durant. “I think he’s a guy that maybe looked at the course and thought, ‘Hey, this course isn’t really as hard as everybody thinks it is.’ He was making a few putts. It was windy and tough the first day and he played a nice round, and then he backed it up early the next morning.
“Most of us just didn’t get out of the gate fast enough to stay with him.’’
A four-time winner on the Champions Tour, Triplett claimed sole possession of second (and a $237,600 paycheck) after he posted the low round of the day, his lowest of the season, and lowest since a second-round 63 in his victory in the SAS Championship Oct. 12, 2014, in Cary, N.C.
“Oh, I’m thrilled, yeah,’’ said Triplett, when asked about his finish (70-68-69-64—271). “Very excited. I think I had just one Top 10 this year and haven’t been able to put together back-to-back good rounds. I had a couple of nice rounds this week. Couple rounds I didn’t get as much out of them as I should have and today I probably got a little more out of my round than I should have.’’
After starting out the day in an eight-way tie for seventh at 6 under, 10 shots back of Langer, Triplett positioned himself for his final-round flourish by stringing together birdies on six of seven holes that bridged the last four holes of his outward nine and first three of his homeward nine.
“Yeah, made a couple of putts and hit it close a couple of times and, all of a sudden, I looked up and I was within eight,’’ said Triplett, making light of Langer’s margin. “I thought, ‘If I make six more birdies, Bernhard’s going to be nervous.’ ’’
Triplett triggered his round with a birdie 3 on No. 6, a challenging 432-yard par 4.
“I think birdieing No. 6 is an accomplishment,’’ said Triplett, who for the tournament hit 19 of 28 fairways and 29 of 36 greens (including 17 of 18 Sunday).
“That’s a hard hole out here and kind of sets the tone,’’ Triplett said. “When you’re 1 under, you’re always kind of walking on eggshells. You get to 2 under, for most of the pros, the green light is on. It’s ‘OK, let’s go out and get a really good score.’
“You’re 1 under, you’re still kind of trying not to make a mistake,’’ Triplett added. “You’re trying to stay under par. So getting the second birdie and getting going, that was important.’’
After he birdied Nos. 10 through 12, Triplett found himself six shots back with six holes to go. But a bogey 5 on No. 14 seemed to seal his fate. He birdied 17 and flirted with tying Steve Pate’s course-record 63 but missed a 45-foot birdie putt on 18.
“I haven’t been in contention too many times this year,’’ Triplett said. “So it was nice to get up there and feel a little bit nervous over some shots. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MBVEGA.