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Flesch eating up field at Montreux

Flesch eating up field at Montreux

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – For the seventh time in his career, Steve Flesch is leading a tournament after 54 holes.

Seven is a lucky number for gamblers, and Flesch hopes its lucky for him, as he shot a second straight 3-under-par 69 Saturday in blustery conditions to open up a five-shot lead heading into today’s final round at the 9th annual Reno-Tahoe Open at Montreux Golf & Country Club.

With three sub-par rounds in the books, Flesch is at 15-under 201. Rookie ohn Merrick (68), Steve Allan (69) and Reno’s Todd Fischer (69) are tied for second place at 10-under-par 206. Charles Warren, who shot a 1-over-par 73, is alone in fifth at 9-under-par 207.

Kevin Stadler (67), Steve Elkington (69) and Jose Coceres (72) are tied for sixth at 8-under-par 208. Another stroke back are Jeff Maggert (67, low round of the day), Jason Dufner (72), ex-PGA champ Shaun Michell (71) and Brendon de Jonge (72).

Flesch has won once and placed second in his previous six attempts after leading after 54 holes. He led the 2004 Bank of America Colonial after three rounds and held on for the win, which is his last victory. Flesch also is in position to become the first wire-to-wire winner on the PGA Tour this season.

Flesch’s third-round lead is the second biggest in RTO history. Vaughn Taylor had a six-stroke lead in 2005 and won by three shots over Jonathan Kaye.

Taylor remarked at the time that six shots was too much of a cushion. Not so, according to Flesch.

“I don’t know if you can ever have too big of a lead,” Flesch said. “I think your mindset might change a little bit if you’re leading by one as opposed to leading by five. It’s still the type of golf course where I’ve got to go out and be aggressive. There are certain holes, especially the par-5s, where you have to take advantage of them.

“I’ve fortunately been in this situation before, but I’ll still think about it tonight. I’d still rather be leading by five than one, especially on the PGA Tour where guys can shoot low numbers. The more leeway you have, the better. I’d like to be leading by eight going into No. 10 tomorrow.”

How aggressive Flesch or any of his challengers play will depend on the wind. The windier the better, according to Flesch.

“I hate clichés, but it’s the same old thing, keep doing what you’re doing, blah, blah – but that’s what I’ve got to do. I think today, I was a little more conservative because of the wind, but not intentionally.

“I just think the wind kept you from shooting at a lot of pins. I just picked my spots and played aggressively where I could. It was a lot like playing yesterday afternoon to be honest with you. If I go out there tomorrow and the wind doesn’t blow, it brings a lot more guys into the mix.”

Flesch, who had five birdies and two bogeys, probably should have shot a lower score. He finished strong with birdies at No. and No. 18, giving him some momentum heading into today.

“Yeah, I missed a couple of short ones,” he said. “I missed two 6-footers and a 3-footer for birdie on No. 9. Actually, on No. 9, it was really whipping down there. I’m not saying I lost my balance, but whenever you’re putting in wind like that, when the wind is hitting your ears, it’s hard to keep your balance and you lose your rhythm a bit. I hit it too hard and it hit the hole and spun out.”

Through 54 holes, Flesch leads the field in greens in regulation with 81.48 percent (44 of 54). If that trend continues today, nobody will catch him.

Fischer, who got into the field on a sponsor’s exemption, has a lot riding on today. A win would give him a two-year exemption on tour, and also put him into next week’s PGA Championship.

“This is my No. 1 major,” Fischer said. “It’s the one I’ve been looking forward to all year. I knew I would be in it, and I want to make the best of it. Only winning helps me. A top-10 would get be great (play in two weeks at the Wyndham). The more weeks I take off from the Nationwide, though, the harder it’s going to be to get into the top-25.”

Fischer started fast, birdieing Nos. 2 and 4 to go 9-under for the tournament. He made a great par save on No. 7 when he blasted out of the bunker and chipped in from the fringe on No. 9 to get to 10-under-par.

Afters pars at Nos. 10 and 11, Fischer bogeyed No. 12. He got that shot back with a birdie on No. 14, but gave it right back with a bogey at No. 15. Fischer changed clubs in the 15th fairway, and left his approach shot short. He chipped up, but missed his par putt.

“I didn’t want to land pin-high,” Fischer said. “The wind was swirling out there, and the greens were firm. If I landed the ball near the pin, it’s going to bounce to the back of the green. I thought I could get a 7-iron there. I hit it a little thin and it came up short. The chip shot got away from me.”

Fischer, who was third here in 2005, got back to 10-under with a birdie at No. 17.

Fischer has been stellar on the greens, needing only 73 putts during the first three rounds. To finish a tournament with less than 100 putts is a stellar performance.

“That (putting) is pretty much why I lost my job last year,” said Fischer , who had two putters in his bag until moments before he had to tee off on Thursday.

Merrick was 4-under on the front side with birdies at Nos. 1, 4, 6 and 9. He had two birdies and two bogeys on the back side. Allan, who lost in a four-way playoff here in 2004, birdied three of his first five holes to finish with a 2-under 34 on the front. He birdied 15 and16 on the back nine following a bogey on No. 14.

“I’m driving the ball well,” said Allan, who has hit 37 of 42 fairways thus far. “You definitely have to be in the fairway (here).”

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281