VERONA, N.Y. (AP) — Two months ago, Steve Flesch was down and almost out. Now, there seems to be no stopping him.
Flesch, who missed the cut in half of the first 20 PGA Tour events he entered this year, continued his resurgence on Sunday, shooting a 1-over 73 to beat Michael Allen by two shots and win the inaugural Turning Stone Resort Championship.
It was the left-hander’s second PGA Tour victory of the year, and the $1.08 million payday boosted his earnings for 2007 to $2.2 million to vault him from 70th on the money list to 25th.
“Eight weeks ago, I was fighting to keep my job out here,” said Flesch, who also earned a spot in the U.S. Open next year as a multiple winner since the last Open. “I wasn’t playing great, missing a lot of cuts by a shot. And when I did make a cut, I was shooting even par on the weekend. You’re just waving guys by when that happens.
“It’s funny. This game is all confidence,” Flesch said. “One little spark can turn your year around, turn your game around. All my friends and family told me to hang in there, keep working hard. But at some point you want results. You can only hang in there so hard and have these guys beat your brains in for so long before you start losing a little bit of confidence.”
It was Flesch’s fourth career victory on the PGA Tour and marked the third straight time he’s won after holding the 54-hole lead. The third-round leader has won five of the last eight events on the PGA Tour, dating to Flesch’s victory at the Reno-Tahoe Open in August.
It was a banner day, too, for the 48-year-old Allen (68), who last year made his 13th trip to the Q-school finals and earned his PGA Tour card for a record ninth time. Although Allen failed to get his first victory, he earned $648,000 to boost his earnings to a career-high $960,297, inside the top 100 on the money list.
“I’m going to faint in just a little bit. I mean, it’s great,” said Allen, who also will get a $4,000 refund from Q school now that he won’t have to endure that again. “In a way I won the tournament just finishing second because for me that was enormous. I didn’t really have much chance to win unless he really faltered.”
It wasn’t difficult to figure out how Flesch won. Over the first three rounds, he reached 51 of 54 greens in regulation, hit 32 of 42 fairways, made 14 putts of more than 10 feet, and was 11 under on the more difficult back nine, including a course-record 30 on Friday that included four birdies and an eagle. That put him at 19 under and tied the PGA Tour’s lowest 54-hole score in relation to par this year.
There were only three players within six shots of Flesch at the start of play Sunday – Carl Pettersson and Charles Warren were the closest at four shots back – but Flesch made it interesting for a while with three bad shots on the first two holes.
Flesch began the round by driving into a fairway bunker on the opening hole, a 404-yard par-4. He hit cleanly out but 40 yards short of the pin, and despite a perfect lie mishit his third shot. It skidded left into a greenside bunker, he hit out to 40 feet and two-putted for bogey.
There was more trouble at No. 2, another par-4. After a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, Flesch’s second shot sailed past the green into the rough 43 feet from the hole. And when he slid his chip 15 past the pin, he was unable to salvage par and dropped back to 17 under.
“It was just a sloppy bogey (at No. 1),” Flesch said. “I made a great save out of the bunker to even make bogey. It woke me up a little bit. Then I drove it right down the middle on the second hole, and when it went over the green, I was like, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go today.’ “
Flesch finally regained his stroke at the 203-yard par-3 third hole, hitting his drive to 4 feet and making birdie while Pettersson settled for his third straight par.
“That calmed me down quite a bit,” Flesch said. “The last thing you want to do is watch that lead start coming back to the field, and that’s what I was doing.”
Pettersson found trouble at No. 4. Both he and Flesch drove into a fairway bunker along the right side, their balls stopping in the sand 6 inches from one another. Flesch hit out first and lofted his second shot to 9 feet and made birdie. Pettersson hooked his second shot left, it rolled down a hill to the right of the green, some 62 feet from the pin, and he two-putted for bogey from inside 15 feet.
Any chance Pettersson might still have had disappeared along with his ball at the par-5 fifth hole, statistically the easiest hole on the course. After a nice drive at the 552-yard dogleg left, Pettersson hooked a fairway wood low and left toward a giant water hazard. The ball landed in 3-foot-high weeds on a near-vertical slope, forcing Pettersson to take a penalty, and he made bogey again.
Warren, who finished a career-best second to Flesch at Reno in August, fell back quickly with two bogeys on the first three holes.
Flesch coasted to victory without a challenge, even though he made seven straight pars and bogeyed two of his last three holes over the 7,482-yard Atunyote Golf Club course, which played much more difficult because of a steady wind and firmer greens than the first three rounds.