Stadler earns fifth win since July

2/15/2004 - Craig Stadler

NAPLES, Fla. -- Craig Stadler made a 27-foot birdie putt on
the first playoff hole to win the ACE Group Classic on Sunday, his
fourth victory in 16 starts on the Champions Tour.

Gary Koch, who had a three-shot lead with five holes to go in
regulation, missed a 31-footer for birdie before Stadler's putt.
After Stadler made his putt, Tom Watson had a chance to force a
second playoff hole. However, his 10-footer went left, giving
Stadler his first victory ever in Florida.

''I thought I left it short,'' Stadler said of his winning putt.
He earned $240,000 for his fourth tour victory.

After turning 50 last June, Stadler won the PGA Tour's B.C.
Open, becoming the first Champions Tour player to win on the PGA
Tour. Two weeks later, he won the Ford Senior Players Championship.

He finished tied for 35th in the PGA Tour's Pebble Beach event
last week.

Stadler, who has won all three times he has led or been tied for
the lead going into the final round on the Champions Tour,
struggled throughout the day. He hit just 10 of 18 greens and was
in five bunkers after beginning the day with a one-stroke lead.

''There's no rhyme or reason I should've won the golf
tournament,'' said Stadler, who admitted he was rooting for his
friend Koch after double-bogeying the 13th hole to fall three back.

Stadler, Watson and Koch all were at 10-under 206. Larry Nelson
was 10 under heading to the final hole, but missed a 7-foot par
putt and didn't make the playoff.

Watson finished second in the event for the fourth time in five
years and third time in a row. He hasn't won professionally in
Florida in 87 tries.

Koch, who last won on the PGA Tour in 1988, had a three-shot
lead after Stadler hit his tee shot out of bounds on No. 13.

But Koch missed a short par putt on No. 14 and an 8-foot par
putt on No. 17. At the 17th, Koch had some bad luck when his second
shot landed in a half-filled divot 78 yards away. His ball ended up
running over the green, just a couple of feet from a hazard stake.

''I felt like I played well enough to win the tournament,'' said

Jack Nicklaus shot a 1-under 71 and finished tied for 15th.