Monster 18th at English Turn no match for Flesch
One of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour brought out the best in Steve Flesch this week.
The monster par-4, 471-yard 18th at English Turn yielded just 20 birdies this week, compared to 136 bogeys and 19 doubles. It ranked as the second-hardest hole on the PGA Tour in 2002 and was by far the toughest at the HP Classic of New Orleans.
But it was no match for Flesch.
After birdieing it in regulation twice in four rounds, Flesch made a 35-foot putt to birdie it one last time in a playoff with Bob Estes to clinch his first PGA Tour victory. The putt was the longest made on the green all week, and the wind-swept hole had yielded just two birdies all afternoon prior to Flesch's dramatics.
To earn his first victory in 174 career PGA Tour events, Flesch played his final 55 holes without a bogey, coming from nine strokes down after 36 holes and seven back after 54 holes. Playing well before the leaders, he shot a 7-under 65 on Sunday, and headed to the range to wait to see if it held up on a windy day at English Turn.
|Around the tours ...|
HP Classic of New Orleans
English Turn Golf & Country Club (7,116 yards, par 72)
1 Steve Flesch (-21)
2 Bob Estes
3 Scott Verplank
4 Mark Wilson
T5 Jerry Kelly
T5 J.L. Lewis
At the time, leader Scott Verplank was on the 15th hole at 22-under, while Flesch was in the clubhouse at 21-under 267 needing help to force a playoff. And help is what he got from Verplank, who bogeyed the 16th and doubled the 18th to fall out of the lead.
More statistics and analysis from the week in golf:
Prior to this year's inaugural LPGA event at Kingsmill, the course hosted a PGA Tour tournament from 1981-2002. The track was obviously shortened for the women, but six holes played to relatively the same length (within 13 yards) for both sexes.
Sorenstam played those six holes at 5-over for the week, compared to 9-under for the other 12. While it's obviously a stretch to assume that because she struggled on those holes she'll fall on her face at the Colonial, the comparison isn't totally without merit. Remember, those holes were also played by PGA Tour pros last year in relatively the same form.
Lee Janzen, who averages about 20 more yards off the tee than Sorenstam but is short by PGA Tour standards, made the cut on the number at last year's event at Kingsmill (a goal Sorenstam strives to reach at the Colonial), and played those holes at 1-over through two rounds.
Sorenstam placed sixth at the Michelob this week, but if those six holes offer a window on how she'll fare at the Colonial, she faces an uphill battle to make the weekend.
2. When Verplank birdied the 12th hole on Saturday to get to 22-under, he had already matched David Toms' 72-hole course record in relation to par. The question wasn't if the record was going to fall, but rather by how many strokes.
But Toms' record held up, thanks to high winds that transformed English Turn from the calm cupcake players feasted on for first three rounds into a tough track that kept them guessing and sent scores soaring. The winning score was 21-under, the same number Verplank had posted after three rounds.
English Turn played two strokes harder on Sunday (71.8) than on Thursday-Saturday (69.8). Just 17 players broke 70 in the final round, compared to 40 the day before.
To the delight of fans at the Cliffs, Nicklaus fired a second-round 67 to make the cut at 5-under, and was just five shots off the lead. Sons Gary (2-over), Michael (3-over) and Jack II (8-over) were all done after 36 holes. Jack's fourth son, Steve, played as his amateur partner for the first two rounds.
Nicklaus stumbled a bit in his final 36 holes, and finished at 4-under 483, tied for 45th. He returns to play against golfers his own age on the Champions Tour next week.
Monty, whose best finish in his grueling eight-week, seven-event visit to the U.S. was a tie for 31st at Bay Hill, shot a final-round 65 Sunday at the Italian Open to jump into a tie for second place.
Montgomerie is back on familiar turf in Europe and is playing with newfound confidence and a new set of irons. He'll play there for the next month before returning to the United States, where he's still never won, for the U.S. Open.
Next up for Monty is another confidence booster: A return to The Belfry, where he was 4-0-1 in Europe's Ryder Cup win last year, for the Benson and Hedges International Open.
Also at the Italian Open this week:
"My family and I are going to eat it all," he said. "I think I put on some extra kilos this week nibbling at the cheese every time I went past the stall at the tournament, so that made the prize even bigger."
"It happens because I'm against the system," he said afterward. "Ten years ago I could have taken a minute and a half to play one shot, but I'm not important any more for the tour.''
The tour is currently looking into the matter, but it will be interesting to see what happens this week at the Benson and Hedges.
5. The Champions Tour had its 10th different winner in 10 events this season, but the winningest player in tour history is still 0-for-2003.
Hale Irwin, who set a Champions Tour record with more than $3 million in earnings and four victories last year, led after each of the first two rounds at the Bruno's Memorial Classic, but faded badly with a 1-over 73 on Sunday. He is winless in seven events on the season.
Up next ...
PGA Tour: Wachovia Championship
The $5.6 million purse for this new event wasn't enough to lure Tiger Woods to Charlotte, but some of golf's other big names will be playing, including Mike Weir (his first event since winning The Masters), Davis Love III, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk.
LPGA Tour: Asahi Ryokuken International Championship
The women are headed to Augusta this week. No, not that Augusta. They'll tee it up in Augusta, S.C., at Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club. Se Ri Pak, Grace Park and Lorena Ochoa head the Annika-less field.
Champions Tour: Kinko's Classic of Austin
The seniors head to Austin, Texas for the first of three straight new events.
European tour: Benson and Hedges International Open
Ten of the 12 members of last year's European Ryder Cup team -- including Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington and captain Sam Torrance -- return to The Belfry, the site of their stunning victory over the Americans in last year's matches. Angel Cabrera defends his title against a field that also includes Retief Goosen and Paul Lawrie.
David Lefort is ESPN.com's golf editor, and can be reached at email@example.com. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.