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Old 05-05-2003, 03:35 PM
sledge sledge is offline
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Default Flesch gets first career win in playoff with Estes





NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Steve Flesch felt the wind whipping around New Orleans and knew it was a good sign.

The 35-year-old left-hander won for the first time in his six-year career Sunday, capping an impressive comeback with a 35-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole in the HP Classic of New Orleans.

Flesch closed with a 7-under 65 to match Bob Estes at 21-under 267. Estes shot a 69, playing the final 55 holes of regulation without a bogey.

The stiff wind that normally protect the wide fairways on the 7,116-yard English Turn course finally made an appearance, after the players had their way for three days. It showed in the final-round scores for almost everyone but Flesch.

``I felt like (the wind) would at least keep everybody from shooting 4- and 5-under par, and being seven back, the only way I was going to have a chance is if the wind blew hard enough where the leaders might struggle,'' he said.

Flesch has three second-place finishes, including one here in 1999.

``We've been looking forward to this for a long time,'' said Flesch, who couldn't contain a smile as he answered questions with fidgety 4-year-old son Griffin in his lap.


Scott Verplank held a two-stroke lead with four holes to play, but bogeyed 16 and double-bogeyed 18 for a 2-over 74. He was third at 19 under.

``I just played bad. I don't know what else to say,'' he said. ``I had plenty of opportunities to get a little distance and I didn't make the putts.''

Flesch joined Mike Weir as the only left-handers to win on tour this year. Weir has won three times, including the Masters.

Estes and Flesch hit solid tee shots to start the playoff hole, the challenging 471-yard, par-4 18th, which yielded only two birdies in the final round. They each reached the green comfortably in two.

Flesch's ball was just a few feet from Estes' and about 5 feet farther from the hole. Despite the distance, Flesch was confident.

``I remember reading the putt, but I don't even remember what I read,'' he said. ``I just knew I was going to make it.''

The winning putt rolled steady, straight and fast, and when it dropped Flesch leaped into the air and pumped his fist over his head, taking a victory lap around the green.

Estes never thought he would have to make birdie to stay alive.


``But it was just the perfect putt, and I just didn't get mine high enough so it never had a chance,'' he said.

His chance to extend the playoff was wide left and Flesch had won the $900,000 first prize.

Flesch pulled within a stroke of the lead with a birdie on 15. He made a couple of clutch shots to save par on 18, including one from the sand that flew 135 yards and put him comfortably on the fairway. His 7-foot putt kept the pressure on Verplank and Estes, who had four holes left.

Flesch moved into a share of the lead while trying to keep warm on the driving range. He said he was listening to radio coverage of the tournament.

``I didn't want to watch it, but listening was worse,'' he said.

Verplank, who struggled to hit greens and fairways all day, made his third bogey of the round on 16 to fall to 21 under. Meanwhile, Estes birdied the hole to create a three-way tie for the lead.

Verplank completed his collapse with an ugly double-bogey that started in the sand and included a shot that sailed into the grandstand. He started the day with a three-stroke lead and also led after the second round.

Estes forced the playoff with a par by getting up and down with a 30-yard chip from the front of the left bunker and a straight-on 4-foot putt.

Rookie Mark Wilson played his best tournament of the season, closing with a second straight 69 to finish fourth at 18 under.


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