RENO, Nev. (AP) — Steve Flesch wasn’t the only one who knew he hadn’t been playing up to par lately. His 8-year-old son Griffin brought it up about three weeks ago.
“He looked at my score and I missed the cut and he said, ‘Dad, you’re really not playing very well are you?”’ Flesch said.
That all changed Sunday when the 40-year-old left-hander shot an even-par 72 in blustery conditions to hang on for a five-stroke victory at the Reno-Tahoe Open, his third career win on the PGA Tour and first in more than two years.
“It was a tough two years but I’m glad to be back in the winner’s circle,” said Flesch, who became the first on tour this year to lead wire to wire.
“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.”
Flesch, who began the day with the same lead after rounds of 63-69-69, had three birdies and three bogeys to finish at 15-under par 273 as winds gusted up to 30 mph at the 7,472-yard Montreux Golf & Country Club on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.
“The putter felt like a rattlesnake out there today,” Flesch said. “But I got the job done… I did most of my great work on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and today just hung in there.”
Kevin Stadler shot a 70 and Charles Warren a 71 to tie for second at 10-under 278. The 74.25 scoring average Sunday was the sixth-highest final-round average on tour this year.
“With the wind blowing today, any score under par is really good,” Warren said. “I had three three-putts and that really was sort of the difference in having a chance.”
Stadler said he didn’t hit the ball very well but still finished without a bogey.
“There wasn’t much good or bad out there really. It was just sort of an average day and to get out of it a couple under par, I’m pretty happy,” he said.
Rich Barcello, who lives in Reno and played golf at the University of Nevada, had a 68 for the best round of the day and a tie for fourth with PGA rookie John Merrick (74) at 8-under 280.
Steve Elkington bogeyed the last hole for a 73 to finish another stroke back at 7-under 281 in a tie with Shaun Micheel (68) and Brendon de Jonge (72).
The $540,000 winner’s check gives Flesch $946,586 for the year and pushed his 10-year career earnings past the $14-million mark. It’s only the second time this year he’s finished in the top 10, tying for fifth last month at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.
Flesch said he’s been struggling to make cuts most of the year.
“Every Friday afternoon, that back nine I’m either on the cut number or a shot out of it. That isn’t the game I’m accustomed to playing my first nine years out here,” he said.
The mountain winds swirling through towering pines kept the challengers from taking advantage of Flesch’s slow start, which included two bogeys in a 37 on the front nine.
Flesch also bogeyed the par-4 10th when his approach came up short in a bunker. But on the 584-yard 11th, his third shot from 95 yards out nearly bounced in the cup and he tapped in for birdie.
He parred the next six holes, getting up and down from the rough behind the green on the 491-yard, par-4 14th and barely missing a 14-foot birdie attempt on the 477-yard 15th. He drove the ball 364 yards in the middle of the fairway on the 636-yard 17th, but hit his approach in a deep trap in front of the green before hitting out to 28 feet and rolling in the birdie putt, then two-putted from 13 feet on the 18th for par.
In addition to leading from start to finish, Flesch’s five-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s final round was the biggest on tour this year, eclipsing the four-stroke lead Tiger Woods had after 54 holes at the World Golf Championships-CA Championship.
The victory ensures Flesch a spot in next week’s PGA Championship for the 10th year in a row. He’s made the cut there seven of the past nine times, his best finish a tie for 10th in 2005.
He said he’s especially excited about the fact the victory gets him an exemption to remain on tour another two years as well as a trip to the winners-only Mercedes Championship at Maui.
“I want to go back to Hawaii. I get to enjoy all the things a winner gets to enjoy,” Flesch said.
And he’s not the only one.
“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, boy. … This will be a fun telephone call to make in just a minute.”