Steady Fernandez fires bogey-free 68 on Sunday

Updated: February 16, 2003, 8:30 PM ET
Associated Press

NAPLES, Fla. -- Vicente Fernandez shot a 4-under-par 68 in strong wind Sunday and won the ACE Group Classic by three strokes, his first victory on the Champions Tour since 1999.

Vicente Fernandez
Winner Vicente Fernandez tosses his hat into the air after sinking his final putt.

The 56-year-old Argentine sank a 61-foot putt to finish the three rounds in 14-under 202. He didn't make a bogey for the final 53 holes of the tournament.

''It was one of the best rounds I've played under these circumstances from tee to green in these weather conditions,'' said Fernandez, who earned a prize of $240,000.

Tour rookie Des Smith (66) and Tom Watson (69) shared second place in the $1.6 million tournament at The Club at TwinEagles. Watson, the 2002 runner-up, hasn't won professionally in 84 tries in Florida.

Jack Nicklaus completed his first full-field Champions Tour event since last April, shooting a 72 for a 3-over total to tie for 58th. Nicklaus, who tied for 11th at the MasterCard Championship two weeks ago, will play in this week's Verizon Classic in Tampa.

''I just didn't play very well,'' the 63-year-old golf great said. ''A few shots were decent, but for the most part I just wasn't very sharp.''

Club professional Jay Overton, a qualifier, bogeyed the last hole to tie for fourth with Gil Morgan and Tom Purtzer.

Fernandez's thoughts were with Brian Deasy, his caddie since 1997. Deasy has been undergoing chemotherapy for a tumor near his spine and left Fernandez a voice mail Saturday night.

''He was inside me, in my thoughts,'' Fernandez said. ''That just shows you that somebody upstairs always remembers when you behave properly.''

Fernandez spaced out birdies on Nos. 6, 10, 17 and 18. His birdie on No. 6 gave him the lead and he extended it with a 3-footer on No. 10. Fernandez missed only one green and he was just off that one. He hit two par-5s in two.

Fernandez' mother, Catilina, 87, brother-in-law, aunt and longtime coach and best friend, Norberto Bartolone, all died last year. That and Deasy's illness contributed to his worst year on the tour. He finished out of the top 31 for the first time.

''That has been with me off the course,'' he said. ''I've tried very hard not to put them on the course during my play because I'm very emotional. ... Before I hit my last putt, I started thinking about them.''


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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