Fleisher evens score with Open victory
PEABODY, Mass. -- Bruce Fleisher sat in the clubhouse at even par, safe from the looming lightning strikes and the threat of five challengers to his first major championship.
"Looking on the board, no one really wanted to take control," Fleisher said Sunday after winning the U.S. Senior Open by parring the last 12 holes during a 2-under 68 that gave him a one-stroke victory.
Playing the last two days in 90-degree heat interrupted by thunderstorms that delayed the third round and accelerated the fourth, Fleisher was well-served by his conservative approach to the 6,709-yard Donald Ross-designed Salem Country Club course.
Isao Aoki (73) and Gil Morgan (70) tied for second at 1-over.
"I knew that par would be a good score," Fleisher said. "I thought that someone (else) would finish even and it would be a playoff. I'm glad it didn't happen, I've got to be honest with you. I didn't want to go back out there."
A year after losing the tournament to a red-hot Hale Irwin, Fleisher joined Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only men to win the U.S. Amateur and the Senior Open. Fleisher won the Amateur in 1968.
"It's been a long time coming," said Fleisher, who won $430,000 -- by far the biggest check of his career.
Fleisher won once in 28 years on the PGA Tour and 13 times as a senior. But the closest he got to a major before was in last year's Senior Open, when he took a two-stroke lead into the final round at Saucon Valley before Irwin shot a 6-under 65 to win by three strokes and post the lowest total -- 17-under -- in tournament history.
The two played in the same group Sunday, both starting the final round at 2-over. Irwin birdied the first hole to move a stroke ahead of Fleisher.
"I said to myself, 'Oh, my God. Here we go again,' " Fleisher said.
Irwin lurked at 2-over before consecutive bogeys at Nos. 15, 16 and 17 left him with a 73 and at 5-over.
Six players were at even par or one stroke back on Sunday before hitting the 15th hole, a 223-yard par-3 that demonstrated why it was the hardest hole on the course by effectively eliminating Irwin, Nicklaus and Larry Nelson.
"That's what cost me the tournament. You can't do that coming in," said Nicklaus, who also bogeyed the 16th hole. "I kind of enjoyed being in the hunt. Standing on the 10th green, I turned around and I said, 'You know, I'm a little nervous.' I said, 'That's good. That's fun.' "
Jim Colbert chipped in for birdie on the 15th to take a short-lived lead at 1-under, but he bogeyed No. 16 and double-bogeyed the 18th after he had already lost his chance to win. He finished with a 73 and was tied for fourth at 2-over with Nicklaus (70) and Allen Doyle (69), who birdied Nos. 12 and 14.
Aoki dropped off the lead with a bogey on No. 17, a 476-yard par-4, when he left his approach short and two-putted. Morgan was done in by the par-4 18th.
Nelson started at 1-under after completing the rain-delayed third round in the morning. But he didn't record a single birdie in the final round, dropping to 4-over with bogeys on Nos. 9, 11, 15, 16 and 18. He shot a final-round 75.
Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press
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