Gary Hallberg started the Sunday’s final round five shots behind Fred Couples, and he started making up ground early. Hallberg birdied the first hole on his way to a final-round 61 and his first win on the Champions Tour.
"So this is what it feels like to win," he said to members of the Greater Hickory Classic Foundation. "Shaking hands and kissing babies."
Hallberg finished the tournament 18-under -- 11-under Sunday -- to win The Ensure Classic at Rock Barn presented by Kia Motors. Couples and Berhand Langer, the leader of the Charles Schwab Cup, played in the final group and shot a pair of 67s to finish second and third, respectively. Couples missed a birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have forced a playoff after his second shot went over the green and forced a downhill chip.
"It was a good week, but I'm highly disappointed," Couples said. "I'll probably get over it 20 miles down the road."
Bob Tway provided the fireworks early with a final-round 62 to finish in fourth place at 15-under, but his great day was overshadowed by Hallberg’s splendid 61.
Hallberg, a four-time first team All-American at Wake Forest, birdied the first and fifth holes, and he shot up the leaderboard with an eagle on the uphill, par-five seventh hole. Hallberg rode that momentum for more birdies on the eighth, ninth, 12th, 13th, 16th and 18th holes.
Hallberg’s last win on the PGA Tour was 18 years ago Monday at the Buick Southern Open in Callaway Gardens, Ga. He is now the seventh first-time winner this season on the Champions Tour, and his 11-under 61 ties the lowest round shot by a winner this year. His previous best finish was a tie for ninth place at the Mississippi Gulf Resort.
“You never think you’re going to win,” he said. “It’s so far out there. Look at all the guys on tour – champions, and I think, ‘I don’t know if I play my best I can beat these guys.’”