Fleisher caps off record week
by David Droschak
CLEMMONS, N.C. (AP) ? Bruce Fleisher was quick to order a glass of wine after breaking his 38-tournament winless streak.
"I'm drinking wine boys, I've earned it," Fleisher said after holding off Senior PGA Tour leading money winner Hale Irwin with a 67 to win the RJR Championship in record-setting fashion Sunday.
Fleisher also had rounds of 60 and 64 at Tanglewood Park for a 19-under-par 191 to set the tour's 54-hole record. Three players held the previous mark of 193, last matched in 1992 by Gibby Gilbert.
Fleisher fell short of the all-time record in relation to par, which is 22 under, last accomplished in 2001 by Tom Kite. But he pocketed $240,000 to move into third place on the money list behind Irwin and Bob Gilder with six events left.
"I can smile now, but do you ever get comfortable out there?" said Fleisher, who hit 16 of 18 greens. "Maybe with a five-shot lead on the last hole. That's the only time."
Irwin had a 67 to finish at 14 under and five shots back, while Don Pooley came in third at 12 under after a final-round 68 on the par-70, 6,714-yard course.
"I thought that 60 could win the tournament if he played respectively the last few days, which he did," Irwin said about Fleisher.
After capturing 14 titles in his first three seasons on the 50-and-over circuit, Fleisher hadn't been able to break through since winning the 2001 U.S. Senior Open.
However, Fleisher became just the third wire-to-wire winner this season. Kite did it in the MasterCard Championship and Gilder in the FleetBoston Classic.
"I don't really think about streaks," Fleisher said. "I think of the bottom line - dollars. Even though I haven't won this year I've played some very solid golf."
Fleisher started at 16 under, five shots ahead of Irwin. That's where Fleisher was when he made the turn after three-putting twice for his first bogeys of the tournament as rain from a tropical depression made the greens tricky.
Irwin mounted a charge and cut Fleisher's lead to three after getting mad at himself when he missed a 5-foot putt on No. 4 for a bogey.
Irwin, who finished in third place each of the previous three weeks, swung his putter in anger and yelled loudly to "putt the ball."
He did on the next three holes, nailing three straight for a string of birdies that brought him to 13 under and within three of Fleisher with nine holes to play.
"You never stop worrying that (Irwin) is going to come because he's going to come," Fleisher said. "He's just one of these premier athletes that defy gravity. I marvel at his game when I play with him."
But Fleisher saved par on the 12th by getting up-and-down from 20 yards off the green as Irwin missed a good birdie chance, and he pushed his lead to five when he sank birdie putts from 10 feet and 6 feet on the next two holes.
Irwin has finished first twice at Tanglewood and second three times since 1995.
"I have no regrets for the week," said Irwin, who has now won $2.57 million this season to take a $600,000 lead over Gilder in the money race. "My goodness, I played well enough to win with the exception of that 60 that Bruce shot. If I keep knocking on the door I'll get one here soon."
Gilder, who won the last two weeks and four of the last seven tournaments, finished back in the pack at 2 under. said her husband was fine but would be admitted to a local hospital for several days. ... Irwin has finished runner-up six times in 2002 and 33 in his eight-year senior tour career. ... Fleisher now has 24 straight rounds of par or better - tops on tour.