Professional Golf returned to the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort on March 22. The winner of the event was a player who was very familiar to the course who won the new Conquistadores Classic, even if he was not real familiar with winning. Marco Dawson shots a final round 69 to win his first Champions Tour event and his first tournament since 2002.
Dawson had played the Omni National course in 11 previous tournaments, but only made the cut twice. On Sunday, he approached the 18th hole with a two-stroke lead but did not take time to enjoy the moment until his final putt found the bottom of the cup.
“You get into such a routine when you play, and my final putt was just a routine shot,” Dawson said at the post-tournament press conference. “But once I saw that ball go in the hole, I said to myself ‘wow, you just won this tournament.’ That’s when everything started to happen. It validates the work I put in. It just tells me that I’m doing the right things.”
The 18th hole had not been kind to Dawson in the past, but Dawson put past failures behind him, made par and took home the tournament’s unique trophy, the golden Conquistadores’ helmet.
“It was funny because I thought I’d always hit good drives on 18 just down the right side and I’d end up in the water and that ball would land in the fairway and end up in the water to the right,” Dawson explained. “And the last two days I’ve hit my 3-wood out to the right and they were fine so I don’t know what the difference was. You know, maybe it was just because it was my week, I don’t know, those balls ended up in the fairway.”
Dawson shot twin 67’s on the first two days of the tournament but his three-under 69 was plenty good enough to hold off Bart Bryant and Mark O‘Meara.
The day started inauspiciously enough with a bogey on the first hole thanks to a two-putt. He settled down after that and birdied three of the next five holes. He birdied twice more on the back nine and a bogey on 15 proved to be no big deal.
“Well, didn’t start off real hot but, you know, in years past I might have gotten a little anxious or whatever you want to call it where I get out of sorts with making bogey on the first hole, but kind of calmed down and thought about it,” said Dawson.
Bryant entered the final day of play, trailing by just a single stroke, but made up no ground shooting a final round 70, finishing two strokes off the lead.
“I’m really happy for Marco, you know, it was cool to see him win,” said Bryant. “Obviously I wanted to win, but, you know, it was fun to see him win to, to see how happy both of them were to get it done.”
O’Meara had a great final day, shooting a 66 and making up three strokes. He moved up seven spots over the final 18 holes, but still trailed Dawson by three strokes on the final hole.
The tournament had a very different feel than the Accenture Match Play been in Marana from 2007-2014, the past six years at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain. Being a Champion six-run sixth inning.
The Dorados improved Seniors Tour, the new tournament featured older players, not the top-64 players in the world. Despite the absence of current PGA starts, the crowd seemed quite content to follow their favorite 50+ year old players.
Big crowds followed players like Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Tom Lehman and more. Couples and Lehman were paired on the second day of the tournament and had over 100 fans following them hole to hole.
The course itself is quite different. The Ritz Carlton, as well as the Gallery before it, are very spacious courses that require a lot of walking. The Omni course is more condensed, with holes closer together. It gave the event a more intimate feel and also allowed for several areas where multiple holes could be viewed at once.
The format was also more conducive for the fans. In match play half the field is eliminated on the first day and by Sunday just four golfers remain, meaning it was quite easy to miss a golfer if he lost early on.
Although the Conquistadores Classic was two-days shorter, it was far easier to carve out time to see all the golfers you wanted.
“I like it, it is much smaller,” said Lamonte Hunley. “Plus the format is much better, more competition and you get to see more players.”
The overall feel of the event was more casual and less formal. The 12th hole featured the Founders Lodge, which morphed into the tournament’s party hole. Fans in the grandstands and surrounding area cheered loudly for every shot, both good and bad, though it was hard to tell as the fans were having too much fun.
The fans seemed more relaxed as well. There were more shorts and t-shirts than at Match Play, as well as more families. A number of children were in attendance and that was not by coincidence.
“The other tournament was more crazy,” said Carlos Meadmore, who brought his young son. “It is a lot calmer here. It seemed like it would be a good introduction for his first tournament.”
Despite the more casual atmosphere, Tucson golf fans know their decorum and no one seemed to cross the line. In fact, Tucson’s reputation as a golf town was maintained over the three days.
“Great atmosphere, it’s just classy because, you know, I play all over the world besides this country but it’s neat to see the hospitality that everybody here at Tucson has put forward to the players and to the sponsors and a lot of kids out here, lot of guys that love the game, people that love the game are coming out and supporting us,” said O’Meara. “So we’re so glad to be back and hopefully this is going to be something even bigger and better in the future.”
The Match-Play, while a terrific event, felt more corporate. Every vendor, every station had the same look and signage. The Conquistadores Classic certainly had a common appearance out on the course, but near the entrance were local vendors like eegees, Anthony’s Cigar Emporium and Cody Coyote Kettle Corn, giving the event a unique southern Arizona feel that was missing at the old tournament.
The Tucson feel was apparent to the players as well.
“As soon as we heard we were coming back, everybody was real excited to be here and didn’t disappoint, you know, of course it was awesome,” said Bryant.
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