Flesch ready to defend Turning Stone title

February 17, 2009

VERONA, N.Y. (AP) — Steve Flesch is back to defend his title at the Turning Stone Resort Championship with a simple goal.

“I just hope I shoot 18 under again,” said Flesch, who won the inaugural Turning Stone Championship a year ago at 18-under 270. “Playing the last hole with a three-shot lead is always nice.”

It was Flesch’s fourth career victory on the PGA Tour and marked the third straight time he’d won after holding the 54-hole lead. Returning to defend was a no-brainer for Flesch, who this year tied for fifth at the Masters and was sixth at the PGA Championship. The tournament offers a $6 million purse, largest in the Fall Series, and a payday of just over $1 million.

Last year’s victory vaulted Flesch from 70th on the money list to 25th and earned him a spot in the U.S. Open. He’s ranked 71st entering this week.

“If I don’t play well on a golf course, I’m not going to come,” Flesch said. “The course suits everybody’s game.”

The tournament begins Thursday and is being held a bit later this year due to the Ryder Cup. Last year’s tournament was in late September, and the weather was spectacular, with temperatures in the 80s, clear skies, and little wind. Forecasters were calling for highs this week in the 50s with showers predicted for the first three days.

“Two weeks later makes a big difference in weather,” Flesch said. “The course is totally different. It’s a lot softer.”

The Fall Series decides the final money leaders list. The top 125 players retain fully exempt status to play on the PGA Tour in 2009, and the fall events determine Nos. 31 through 125. (The top 30 are decided through the FedEx Cup playoffs.)

The Turning Stone Resort Championship will feature a field of 132 players competing at Atunyote Golf Club, a 7,482-yard, par-72 layout. The final four spots in the field were determined through an 18-hole qualifier on Monday at the resort’s Kaluhyat Golf Club, and two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen was among the foursome that made it.

They will face some stiff competition. The event has attracted 13 players in the top 50 on the PGA money list and six players who made it to the Tour Championship.

One who isn’t in the top 50 is Davis Love III, a 19-time winner on the PGA Tour who’s struggled this year. Turning Stone chief executive officer Ray Halbritter had tried to lure Love here before, but this time Love has a good reason for visiting upstate New York.

Love earned a five-year exemption for his victory at the 2003 Players Championship and a two-year exemption for his last victory, the 2006 Chrysler Classic of Greensboro. But his best finish in 17 events this year was a tie for 19th at the British Open, and he ranks 155th on the money list, putting him in danger of losing fully exempt status.

The field also includes four sponsor’s exemptions: 50-year-old Joey Sindelar, a native of Horseheads, N.Y. who has five top-10s and ranks 25th on the money list in his first year on the Champions Tour; reigning U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee; tournament ambassador Notah Begay III; and Ryder Cup assistant captain Olin Browne.

Lee said he expects to turn pro sometime next year but has his sights set on the task at hand.

“I have a good feeling about this tournament,” Lee said. “I’m not just here for making the cut. Hopefully, if I play well enough I can win. That’s my goal.”

Divots: The players in the top 50 on the money list playing here include Robert Allenby, Woody Austin, Briny Baird, Brian Gay, Dudley Hart, Ryuji Imada, Steve Marino, Sean O’Hair, Rod Pampling, Carl Pettersson, Jeff Quinney, Nicholas Thompson and D.J. Trahan. Last year’s event had nine players in the top 50.