Stadler earns fifth win since July

Updated: February 15, 2004, 8:59 PM ET
Associated Press

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 Koch.

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


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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