Two-stroke swing on 17 the difference for Fleisher
Fleisher shot a 4-under-par 67 in the final round to finish at 8-under 205 at the TPC of Tampa Bay. Irwin, who began the day with a one-shot lead, shot 69 to finish at 7 under.
Irwin, who has 36 career wins as a senior, led by one shot when the final group went to the 213-yard par-3 17th. But he put his tee shot 20 feet right of the pin, and Fleisher followed by dropping his ball within 7 feet. Irwin then boomed his first putt 5 feet past the hole and missed the comebacker. Fleisher dropped his 7-footer for birdie and the lead.
''It's hard to believe,'' Fleisher said. ''I think when you beat Hale, it's a little more satisfying than just actually winning. We all know that he's the best out here. I've said that all along. He just doesn't let up. He doesn't make mistakes. He did on 17, which is rare. He opened the door for me big time.''
Irwin also had an opportunity to force a playoff with a 13-foot putt for birdie on the final hole, but his shot rolled to a halt at the edge of the cup.
''For me, the story line comes down to a very poor week of putting,'' Irwin said. ''All in all, I can't fault the way I struck the ball, but, oh my goodness, what a frustrating week putting.
''I three-putted 17. I had a birdie putt then ended up three-putting. That horrible. Absolutely horrible.''
Mike Hill, 64, shot a 66 to finish third at 4 under.
It was Fleisher's second Verizon Classic win and the continuation of an amazing streak. In five appearances at TPC of Tampa Bay, Fleisher has a victory in 2000, two seconds and a third to go with Sunday's victory.
''It's a course you have to drive the ball to play,'' he said. ''It takes a lot of patience. It's just a course that looks good to me in my eyes.''
Both Fleisher and Irwin returned to the 16th hole early Sunday to complete second-round play that was halted Saturday by lightning.
Irwin breezed back to the clubhouse with three pars to complete a round of 69 for a 5-under total, good for a one-shot lead after Fleisher missed his par-saving effort at 16, bounded back with a birdie at 17, then made double-bogey at 18 after hitting into water with his approach.
Fleisher quickly got back in form when the final round began. He birdied the second, third, sixth and seventh holes and held a two-shot advantage at the turn despite bogeying No. 9.
Irwin birdied Nos. 12, 14 and 15 for his one-shot lead before Fleisher regained the advantage at 17.
Fleisher earned 240 points for his win and moved into second in the overall standings behind Dana Quigley, who has 337. Fleisher is next with 290, and Dave Barr (269), Gil Morgan (245) and Vicente Fernandez (240) round out the top five.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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