Jerry Kelly was one shot out of the lead Sunday when he teed off in the final round of the SAS Championship.
By the time he made the turn, after his first nine holes, after five straight birdies, Kelly was four shots ahead.
That’s called taking charge quickly and Kelly did that in the PGA Tour Champions event at Prestonwood Country Club, holding off a late bid by David McKenzie of Australia for a one-shot victory.
Kelly, with a 7-under-par 65, finished at 16-under 200 to earn his third victory of the year on the Champions tour. That’s another momentum-booster heading into the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs next week for a player who says he thrives on the rush of being in contention.
“I love adrenaline,” Kelly said. “I’m kind of addicted to it, so I really enjoy that feeling. I know I can’t control it, I just have to embrace it and have fun. I’ve done that all year.”
McKenzie, who has not won on the PGA Tour Champions, had a 63 on Sunday, the low round of the tournament.
“I was just trying to keep my head above water and it just turned out I made a couple of good putts, had a couple of chip-ins ... and all of a sudden I’ve had a good score,” McKenzie said.
But it wasn’t until he holed out a bunker shot for an eagle at the par-5 17th that he first felt he might have a chance to chase down Kelly.
“I thought, yeah, but Jerry’s a good player, he’s won a lot, he’s not going to do too many stupid things,” McKenzie said.
Kelly, a Madison, Wis., native, also had the 17th to play and made a long, testing two-putt for a birdie. He three-putted the final hole for bogey but it didn’t matter as he soon had his hands on the winning trophy and check for $315,000.
Scott McCarron, who leads the Schwab Cup standings, tied for eighth place at 9-under 207 after a 67. Kelly is second on the list with $2,254,485.
Kelly, third in the 2018 SAS, started his final round par, birdie, par, par. Nothing special. But he birdied the fifth hole, then the sixth. And the seventh, eighth and ninth holes.
On his scorecard that was 3-3-4-2-3, giving him a 6-under 29 on the front. Kelly suddenly had a four-shot cushion over Woody Austin, who was tied for the 36-hole lead with Doug Barron.
“I was in one mode and you don’t try to play prevent defense,” Kelly said. “I knew somebody was going to come up and have a great backside and make it close.”
Barron, seeking his second victory of the year, had his round derailed by a triple-bogey at the par-4 sixth hole. He tied for third with Austin and David Toms at 205.
Former UNC star Davis Love III, playing in the SAS for the first time, tied for 36th at 2-under 214 after a 71. Two other World Golf Hall of Fame members, Fred Couples and Vijah Singh, were at 3-under 213 -- Couples with a final-round 69.
Chris Hockaday of Angier, competing in his first Champions tour event, had an even-par 72 for a 221 finish. That bettered the totals of former major championship winners Larry Mize, Sandy Lyle and Mark Calcavecchia.
It has been a big year for Kelly, with wins in The Ally Challenge, American Family Insurance Championship and now the SAS. The SAS was his sixth career PGA Tour Champions victory.
Kelly, 52, first played at Prestonwood Country Club in 1994 and 1995 on what’s now the Korn Ferry Tour. His wife was his caddie then and his fuse considerably shorter, he said, but he’s a different man now.
“Just stop and smell the roses a little bit more, really enjoy yourself,” Kelly said. “She always told me nobody had more fun getting mad than me but I’m really enjoying my time out here on the tour.”