Jerry Kelly makes ace on his way to winning first senior major

Jerry Kelly, who finished at 3 under, won $450,000. He and Scott Parel were the only players to finish under par on the South Course at Firestone.

Jerry Kelly celebrates the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship win in Akron, Ohio, on Sunday.   -  AP

Jerry Kelly seized control at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship with a hole-in-one on the 12th hole at Firestone, sending him to a 1-under 69 and a two-shot victory for his first major on the PGA Tour Champions.

Kelly was clinging to a one-shot lead over Scott Parel when he hit a soft cut with a 5-iron that landed in front of the hole and rolled in for an ace, eliciting a shout from one volunteer around the green.

From there, Kelly was on his way. His only big mistake came on the 18th when he could afford it. He found a bunker off the tee, his next shot hit a tree and dropped into rough below the limbs. He did well to get into the fringe and took three putts for a double bogey, knowing that was enough to win.

“It never goes as planned. It gets you sooner or later,” Kelly said, knowing that later in this case was late enough.

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Parel, who wasted chances to put stress on Kelly earlier in the round, hit a tree from his approach in the fairway and made bogey to finish with a 70. Parel last year had the 54-hole lead at Firestone and failed to hold it.

His runner-up finish was enough to move him to the top of the Charles Schwab Cup standings.

Kelly, who finished at 3 under, won USD 450,000. He and Parel were the only players to finish under par on the South Course at Firestone, which previously hosted a World Golf Championship where Tiger Woods won a record eight times.

“Just to have a major out there is huge for me, not even getting that close on the regular tour,” Kelly said.

The victory gives him a spot in The Players Championship next March. That was equally exciting to Kelly, who in 2001 had a two-shot lead over Woods going into the final round at the TPC Sawgrass, only to fade with a 73 to tie for fourth.

Kelly also gets a five-year exemption into the PGA Tour Champions’ season-opener on the Big Island in Hawaii. It was Kelly’s first victory of the year, and his seventh since he turned 50 to become eligible in 2017.

This was a two-man race for the most part.

Colin Montgomerie close with a 71 and Miguel Angel Jiminez had a 69. They finished at even-par 280.

Kelly made two birdies early and had a two-shot lead when Parel made bogey on the par-4 sixth hole. Kelly had to make medium-length par putts on Nos. 8 and 10, and when he failed to save par on the 11th, the lead was down to one.

Parel hit a good shot into the 12th. Kelly followed with an ace, and when Parel missed his birdie putt, Kelly’s lead was back to three shots and he was on his way.