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Fleisher Holds Off Irwin in Tampa

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LUTZ, Fla. -- Bruce Fleisher posted a 4-under 67 Sunday to win the Verizon Classic by one shot over Hale Irwin. Fleisher finished at 8-under-par 205 for his second victory at this event and 16th overall on the Champions Tour.
 
'Great to win,' said Fleisher. 'The Champions Tour is very special. We have some great name recognition and it's only going to get better.'
 
Mike Hill shot a 5-under 66 to finish alone in third at 4-under-par 209. He was followed by Mike McCullough, Jim Thorpe and Mark McCumber.
 
Fleisher was atop the leaderboard when play was suspended Saturday due to heavy storms. He returned to the TPC of Tampa Bay Sunday morning along with 15 other players, including Irwin, and lost the lead thanks to a double-bogey at the 18th. Despite that blunder, Fleisher came through when it mattered for his first win of the season.
 
'I was upset that I doubled 18 this morning,' said Fleisher. 'You try to hold your emotions. I had lost some confidence early this year but coming to this course you can dig deep and remember.'
 
Fleisher held the lead for most of the final round until a late charge by Irwin. The all-time winner on the Champions Tour picked up three birdies early on the back nine to claim the top spot momentarily at minus-8.
 
This all changed at the par-3 17th, however. Irwin, who was also the runner-up at this event last year, found the green off the tee but struggled with the putter. He had 20 feet to the hole and took three putts to find the bottom of the cup for a bogey. At the same time, Fleisher drained a seven-foot putt for birdie to retake the lead.
 
'What a frustrating week of putting for me,' said Irwin, who shot a 2-under 69. 'Three-putt at 17 was killer. You'd like to have that putter working down the stretch.'
 
Both players parred the 18th and Fleisher secured the title and the $240,000 first-place prize.
 
'Hard to believe,' said Fleisher. 'When you beat Hale it's a little more satisfying. He's the best out here and just doesn't make mistakes. He did at 17 and opened the door for me.'
 
Fleisher was on fire early with a pair of birdies starting at the par-3 second. He hit a 9-iron inside four feet for birdie at the sixth and two-putted for birdie at the par-5 seventh. He bogeyed the ninth to make the turn at 7-under before the battle on the inward nine.
 
Dana Quigley, who finished second to Fleisher at this event in 2000, carded a final-round 69 to finish at 1-under-par 212. Quigley was joined by Dave Barr and Gil Morgan in a tie for seventh.
 
Allen Doyle, Des Smyth and Tom Jenkins were one shot further back at even-par 213.
 
Tom Watson, who is still looking for his first victory in the state of Florida, was joined by Fuzzy Zoeller at 1-over-par 214.
 
Jack Nicklaus, the winner here in 1996, was part of a group at 2-over-par 215.
 
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from the Verizon Classic
  • Full coverage of the Verizon Classic