After teasing the rest of the field with a shaky start at the Encompass Insurance Pro-Am, Michael Allen pulled away to a 3-stroke victory Sunday that stamps him as the player to beat on the 2012 Champions Tour.
Allen started the day with a 5-shot lead after rounds of 66 and 67 at TPC Tampa, but consecutive bogeys at No. 3 and No. 4 dropped his advantage to one stroke over Olin Browne, while hinting at a suspenseful finish.
But instead of wilting in the 85-degree heat, Allen birdied five of his next 13 holes, including a 20-foot putt at No. 17 that sealed his first win since the 2009 Senior PGA Championship -- his initial event on the Champions Tour.
"I never slept on a 5-shot lead before,'' said Allen. "Last night, I went out with the guys and tried not to think about it. I've played a lot of really good golf and I knew another win was going to come soon.''
Allen's closing 68 left him at 12-under-par 201 and marked his sixth consecutive round under 70, dating back to a second-place finish in the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic three weeks ago.
Kenny Perry made a late charge with a 65 highlighted by a pair of eagles, but Allen never flinched as he assumed the top spot on the 2012 money list with $661,782 after grabbing the winner's share of $240,000.
When his drive at 18 landed in the fairway, Allen lit up a cigar he purchased Saturday night in Ybor City.
"Fuzzy (Zoeller) told me to play today like I was broke,'' said Allen, 53, who turned professional in 1984 but quit the PGA Tour briefly 15 years ago to try his hand as a contractor. "I figured someone would make a run today and it was nice to get that birdie (5-footer) on the fifth hole. I kept hanging in there and I knew I was going to play well.''
Perry started the day with an eagle from the fairway at No. 1 and added an eagle at the par-5 No. 12, where playing partner Corey Pavin also registered a 3. A bogey at 13 dropped Perry to 6-under, but he birdied three of the final five holes to keep things interesting at 9-under.
"That early eagle got me in the right frame of mind,'' said Perry, the longest hitter on the Champions Tour. "I knew I had to shoot 65 or lower today because I was so far behind and I did it. I played a beautiful round of golf, but I'm happy for Michael Allen. I've played a lot of golf with him and he's fun to be around. He really likes this golf course.''
Peter Senior opened and closed with a 67 to finish five shots back at 7-under while Pavin, who once described Allen as a "birdie machine,'' finished seven shots back at 208.
Allen has ramped up his game to another level this year, with a win, a second-place finish and two ties for third in six events.
"It's been a long time since I've beaten these guys,'' said Allen, who ended a winless Champions Tour drought encompassing 40 events and almost three years. "I didn't really have a lot of stress out there.''