Flesch presses on for easy win at RTO
BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO - Steve Flesch got the windy conditions he wanted for the final round of the 9th annual Reno-Tahoe Open.
Flesch certainly didn't play his best golf of the week, but his even-par 72 on a blustery day Sunday at Montreux Golf & Country Club was enough to hold off the field and give him his first PGA title since 2004.
Flesch, who won $540,000, finished at 15-under-par 273, five strokes ahead of Charles Warren (71) and Kevin Stadler (70), both of whom finished at 10-under-par 278. Both Stadler and Warren won $264,000.
Reno's Rich Barcelo (68) finished in a fourth-place tie with ex-UCLA star John Merrick (74). Both were at 8-under-par 280. Former PGA champs Shaun Micheel (72), Brendon de Jonge (72) and Steve Elkington (73) tied for sixth at 7-under-par 281.
Flesch, who has now won $946,586 this season, became the first wire-to-wire winner on the PGA Tour this season, and he also qualified for the upcoming PGA Tournament, which starts Thursday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the 10th time.
The win also earned him a two-year exemption on tour, and he moved up to 79th on the FedExCup standings, which means he could play in two of the four "playoff" tournaments.
The left-handed Flesch won for the first time since the 2004 Bank of America Colonial.
"It was a tough two years, but I'm glad to be back in the winner's circle," said Flesch. "I made a few mistakes out there today but it was a tough, windy day. I just hit it so well I couldn't help but to probably win to be honest with you.
"Yeah, after yesterday, I had a good feeling. I got what I was asking for with that wind out there today, and it really helped. The way I played today, if it was calm out there, I'm not sure I would have been able to hold off a good round. I did most of my great work on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and today I just hung in there."
Flesch's final-round 72 was the second-highest for a winner on this year's PGA Tour. The highest was Tiger Woods' 73 at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral.
The win also earns Flesch a trip to Hawai'i for the opening tournament next season.
"I want to go back to Hawaii so I get to enjoy all the things a winner gets to enjoy,'' Flesch said. "Griffin, my 8-year-old, that's all he keeps saying, 'Dad when are we going to go back to Hawaii?' It's not like I'm not trying."
Flesch, who carried a five-shot lead into the final round, saw his lead drop to two shots after Warren birdied the par-5 ninth hole to go 11-under-par and Flesch bogeyed No.10.
"I just didn't hit a good shot," Flesch said. "I hit the right club, I just didn't hit a good shot out into the right bunker."
Warren couldn't maintain the pace, and dropped a shot to par down the stretch.
Flesch, meanwhile, birdied No. 11 with a chip shot to less than a foot of the cup, and then he birdied No. 17.
"I hit it in the front bunker in two (on 17), and all I was worried about was not sending it into the TV tower," Flesch said. "I knew with a four-shot lead, as long as I got it on the green I was fine. I chunked it out of there, rolled it up to about 15 or 18 feet, and made it."
He ended with a par on the finishing hole, ending his winless streak.
Flesch said he felt the tournament was his on the 16th hole.
"Honestly, when I hit the green on 16 is when I really relaxed," Flesch said. "I'll tell you, I was nervous all day, just mainly because of the conditions. Believe me, I was relieved when I kept looking up on the board and seeing no one get to 12 under.
"I took a little bit of pride knowing that I got it back to even. I didn't want to shoot one-over par. I was leading by five and I wanted to win by five. It pays the same if you win by one, but I didn't want to squander the lead. So, I was proud of myself for that."
Flesch had just the 15th-best putting average for the tournament, but his accuracy off the tee and solid iron play made up for it.
" The putter felt like a rattlesnake out there today, especially in the wind like this," Flesch said. "When you use that belly putter, your balance is enough of an issue, but then you've got that thing jamming you in the gut...."
Stadler had a nice comeback after an opening-round 74. He shot back-to-back 67s before his final-round 70. Stadler was the only player with a bogey-free round Sunday.
"There wasn't much good or bad out there really," Stadler said. "It was just sort of an average day and to get out of it a couple under par, I'm pretty happy."
Stadler birdied two holes and parred the other 16.
For Warren, it was the best finish of his career. He knew he had to get off to a good start, and he did exactly that with birdies at Nos. 2 and 4.
On No. 2, the 171-yard par-3, Warren drained an 18-foot birdie putt. On No. 4, a 518-yard par-5, Warren chipped to 20 foot and made the putt.
"I knew I was hitting it well," Warren said.
Warren gave a shot back on No. 8, a 464-yard par-4. His second shot left him 66 feet from the pin, and it took him three putts to get down from there. He got the shot back on the par-5 ninth when he two-putted for a birdie.
A bad tee shot on No. 11 led to a double-bogey and dropped him to 10-under, which is where he finished.
One thing is certain, Warren will stay with the belly putter for the forseeable future.
Warren did have three three-putts on Sunday, which were costly. However, that had as much to do with the wind and bad iron shots as anything.
"I don't think it's going anywhere for a while," Warren said. "If it wasn't for Steve Flesch, I wouldn't have putted (as well) this week."
Warren said it was Flesch that taught him how to use the new club at the Canadian Open, and the left-hander jokingly told Warren that he should get part of his winnings.
• Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281