Flesch Defends First Title

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04 HP Classic of New OrleansAt the 2003 Mercedes Championships, an unofficial poll was taken among many in the elite and limited field.
 
A curious question: Who is the player most likely to get his first PGA Tour win this season?
 
Or it could have been put in a more negative tone: Who is the best player on tour without a victory?
 
A couple of different names popped up here and there. Most players offered more than one answer. But, by far, one name was mentioned more than the rest.
 
Steve Flesch.
 
The reasons were simple: Flesch had been a PGA Tour member for five full seasons, beginning with his rookie campaign in 1998; he had three career runner-up finishes; he had 34 top-10s; he had won over $5 million; and the previous season, a record 18 first-time winners prevailed on tour ' none of who were named Steve Flesch.
 
Flesch didnt get off to the best of beginnings in 03. By the time he reached the HP Classic of New Orleans in early May he had six missed cuts in 13 starts. But he also had four top-10 finishes, including two-in-a-row heading to English Turn Golf & Country Club.
 
After a modest start in New Orleans, which left him nine strokes behind 36-hole leader Scott Verplank, Flesch shot 65-65 over the weekend to force a playoff with Bob Estes.
 
He then rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the first hole of sudden death to finally turn all that promise and potential into reality.
 
Weve been looking forward to this for a long time, he said with a broad grin on his face and his then 4-year-old son, Griffin, on his lap during his post-victory press conference.
 
Since that breakthrough victory, however, things have gone back to the way they were before, result-wise. He has finished inside the top 10 five times, but has nine missed cuts ' and no wins.
 
His best chance for win No. 2 came in this years FBR Open, where he tied for third.
 
Unlike last weeks Shell Houston Open, where no player has ever successfully defended his title, there is historical precedence for Flesch in New Orleans.
 
Byron Nelson won consecutively in 1945-46; Bo Wininger in 1962-63; Tom Watson in 1980-81; and Carlos Franco in 1999 and 2000.
 
The tournament has also seen its share of international winners over the last 20 years: Spains Seve Ballesteros (1985); South African David Frost (1990); Welshman Ian Woosnam (1991); Englishman Lee Westwood (1998); Paraguayan Franco (1999, 2000); and South Korean K.J. Choi (2002).
 
This is the 56th playing of the tournament and the 16th straight year that English Turn (par 72, 7,116 yards) has played host.
 
This is the 18th tour event of the season, and there have been two repeat winners: Phil Mickelson (Bob Hope, Masters) and Vijay Singh (Pebble Beach, Shell Houston Open). Last year at this time, Mike Weir, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods had all won three tournaments apiece, while Ernie Els had two victories to his name.
 
There are five 2004 winners in the field this week. Mickelson, Appleby (Mercedes), Singh, Heath Slocum (Tucson Open) and Todd Hamilton (Honda Classic) will be looking to add to their resume.
 
Mickelson is making his first start since capturing his first major championship at the Masters Tournament. He finished runner-up to David Toms in this event in 2001.
 
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