By Ken MacLeod
TULSA, Okla. – The wave Alex Cejka is riding is fast becoming a tsunami.
Demonstrating a versatile game of accurate and powerful ball striking combined with a deft touch around the demanding greens at Southern Hills Country Club, Cejka shot a final-round 67 Sunday to shoot 8-under and win the Senior PGA Championship by four shots over Tim Petrovic, who also closed with a 67.
Retief Goosen, winner of the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, shot a 4-under 66 to tie K.J. Choi for third at 3-under. Choi briefly tied Cejka for the lead after four birdies in his first seven holes before settling for a 2-under 68.
Cejka, 50, won his second consecutive senior major, having defeated Steve Stricker in a playoff at the Regions Tradition in early May. Stricker had a one shot lead going into the final round of this championship and many expected another duel to the finish.
That duel vanished early, as Stricker’s usually reliable putting failed him greatly, missing seven putts inside of eight feet. His ball striking was also off, leading to a 77 that dropped him all the way to a tie for 11th.
“It’s incredible,” Cejka said. “Seeing and knowing all those names who are up there on the trophy and being on the trophy myself, it’s a dream come true. . . Monday when I played for the first time here I walked those fairways and remember seeing this on TV in all those years and I can’t even describe how it feels to be here and touching the trophy. I’m just super blessed. I’m super happy. It’s an incredible feeling right now. “
After a birdie at the first, Cejka had a nervous bogey-bogey stretch on 2 and 3. But with Mike Weir and Stricker making a mess of things around him, he steadily pulled away with birdies on 5, 7, 11 and 12. From there he held on, getting up and down from greenside bunkers and overcoming a water ball on the par-5 13th that led to his only bogey on the back nine. He also drove into a creek on the par-4 10th, but after taking a drop hit his third shot to 6 feet and saved par.
Cejka said seeing what was happening to Stricker and Mike Weir early was a shock to his system. Weir started the day three shots back but shot a final round 72.
“ I was actually almost in shock which threw my game off totally,” he said. “ I was expecting him (Stricker, who began the day at 6 under) to come out and just put so much pressure on, as great a player as he normally is. But it’s golf. Even the best players have just a bad day or a bad week. This happens. I was a little bit shocked also on my stupid two little bogeys I made on 2 and 3, but I was grinding. I knew even the guys behind me, if somebody shoots 3, 4-, 5-under par. It’s doable, but tough. So I really focused very hard today and I’m glad it’s over, let me tell you.”
Cejka fled the Czech Republic with his father at age nine, settling eventually in Munich, Germany, where he took up golf and turned professional at age 18. He won three times on the European Tour in 1995 and a fourth event in 2002 before moving to the U.S. He played the PGA Tour from 2002 to 2011 before losing his status, but he regained it in 2015, a year he won the Puerto Rico Open for his lone PGA Tour victory.
He joined the PGA Tour Champions without enough career money winnings for full status, and was an alternate into the Tradition. He also finished second in the Chubb Championship in April. He now not only has earned full status, he will be back at Southern Hills in 2022 for the PGA Championship, for which he will be slightly younger than the defending champion Phil Mickelson.
Petrovic has now finished second in nine events including twice in this event. In 2018 he was second in both the Senior PGA and Senior U.S. Open, as well as second in the Chubb Championship. In 2019 he was second in two events and in 2020 second or third in three events.
“I just put the blinders on and play my game,” Petrovic said. “I think that’s been the key for me in all these runnerup finishes. One of these days I’ll punch one through.”
Bernhard Langer, Jerry Kelly, Paul McGinley and others waited on the first tee to congratulate Cejka on the torrid start to his senior career and the impressive performance at Southern Hills.
“After he won Regions Tradition, you know, he was really meaningful in saying, I finally feel like one of you guys,” Kelly said. “Now he’s been a great player for a long time and he’s put in so much time. He’s playing the Outlaw Tours in Arizona. He’s played everything he can. He never gave up and this is the reward that’s happening right now. I mean I think it’s an awesome story. He’s a great guy. He works his butt off. He keeps his head down and goes and gets it. I think it’s awesome.”