KAHUKU, Hawaii (AP) – While the wind left most of the players frustrated, confused and vulnerable, Jerry Pate couldn't have asked for better conditions.
Pate handled the howling wind in the Turtle Bay Championship on Sunday, closing with a 2-under 70 for a two-stroke victory over Jim Thorpe and senior rookie Fulton Allem.
"When the weather is like this, it plays right into my hands," said Pate, who was four strokes behind leader Gil Morgan after the second round.
The 54-year-old Pate breezed to a 5-under 211 total for his first victory in 39 starts and second career Champions Tour title.
With tears in his eyes, Pate dedicated the victory to his trainer's 26-year-old son, Justin Wilk, who was found dead earlier this month in Florida. Kevin Wilk and his son helped rehabilitate Pate after several shoulder surgeries and got him back to golf.
Pate visited with the family before coming to Hawaii and wanted to win one of the first two events in their honor.
"It was just a tragic loss. So this win is not just for me, but for Kevin and for Justin," said Pate, who had the turtle trophy sent to his trainer's clinic in Birmingham, Ala.
Pate and his wife, Soozi, woke up to a brilliant rainbow outside their hotel and believed he was destined to win.
"It was so surreal. … It was the most perfect (rainbow) from tip to toe," he said. "I said, 'That's a great omen. I'm going to win today.'"
Allem (73) and Thorpe (74) each birdied the final hole to tie for second.
"You could hit some putts and the wind would make you look like an idiot," said Allem, recording his best finish in three Champions Tour starts. "It was just survival. That's all it was, pure survival."
It was so windy, Thorpe wore a white cap instead of his usual straw hit.
"It was a guessing game. There was nothing you could do out there," said Thorpe, who finished tied for 13th at last week's elite MasterCard Championship. "These three days are probably three of the hardest I've ever played where you didn't have any clue of what you were doing."
Morgan (77), 2006 champion Loren Roberts (71), Wayne Grady (70) and Monday qualifier Robert Thompson (72) tied for fourth, three strokes back.
Relentless tradewinds blew 20 to 25 mph with gusts reaching 35 mph. The players scrambled, switched clubs and talked to their caddies, and themselves.
The wind seemed to shake everyone like the ironwood trees, except for Pate.
"The tougher the better," Pate said. "Unfortunately, golf becomes a lot of times a putting contest instead of the whole game."
Pate has thrived in the most difficult of conditions and courses. But he has lost several times on the final hole because of his putting.
"It's not that I'm a bad putter. It's just ball striking is my strength," he said. "You're not going to have everything. The only person that has everything is Tiger Woods. … If I putted like Loren Roberts or Jay Haas, I'd probably win 10 times a year."
Pate missed a 12-foot putt for par on the 54th hole that would've made him the only player to shoot in the 60s in the final round of the 50-and-over circuit's first full-field event of the year. He was just one of four players to break par.
With the field struggling, Pate made a mid-round rally with three straight birdies on Nos. 8-10 that pushed him to the top of the leaderboard at 6 under.
The whistling wind forced the 1976 U.S. Open winner to step away before he calmly sank a 4-foot putt on the par-5 eighth for a share of the lead. Pate took the outright lead on the following hole by sinking an 8-footer for birdie.
Pate went up by two strokes over Bernhard Langer heading into the home stretch. It became a fight for second when Langer bogeyed 15.
Pate said he never looked at the leaderboard and didn't know he had sealed the win until his caddie told him about his four-stroke lead at 18.
"When you're playing in these kind of conditions, you just can't look at the leaderboard," he said.
It was Pate's first victory since the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in the injury-shortened 2006 season where he underwent right-shoulder surgery in the summer to repair torn cartilage. The Outback victory was his first win in nearly 24 years, since the 1982 Players Championship.
Defending champion Fred Funk, who ran away an 11-stroke victory last year, had a horrendous final round of 81. His highest round last year was 65.
Funk was coming off a win last week in the winners-only MasterCard Championship.
Last year, Funk had the most lopsided victory ever in a 54-hole Champions Tour event, finishing with consecutive 8-under 64s for an 11-stroke, wire-to-wire win. He had a tournament-record 23-under 193 total.
The 18-stroke margin between the two years at Turtle Bay is the largest difference in a 54-hole Champions Tour event.