Pooley Pulls Away for Win

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Golf is once again fun again for Don Pooley.
 
Winning can have that effect.
 
Pooley pronounced his comeback from shoulder surgery complete after winning for the first time in more than a year, breaking away from the pack with an eagle on No. 11 and cruising to a three-stroke victory Sunday in the Allianz Championship.
 
The frustration he has endured since having a torn ligament repaired in his left shoulder on Jan. 3 is over.
 
'This is a huge turnaround pretty quickly for me,' Pooley said. 'It's a wonderful game now.'
 
Pooley's only previous victory on the Champions Tour was the 2002 Senior Open. He claimed this one -- and a $225,000 paycheck _ with a 4-under-par 67 that enabled him to hold off a host of challengers that included Jim Thorpe, Bruce Lietzke, Bruce Fleisher, John Bland and former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden.
 
At one point, those six all were bunched within two strokes of the lead. But on a steamy day that produced a heat index in the low 100s, Pooley held steady while the others wilted.
 
That was something he couldn't have imagined as he struggled in his first few tournaments back after a five-month layoff. But a 10th-place finish earlier this month in the 3M Championship, which included a 63 in the second round, helped get him back on track.
 
'This is huge. It really is,' Pooley said. 'To prove to myself that I came back and can win again, there were a lot of doubts there not too long ago.'
 
Rhoden made a strong impression in just his second event on the tour. He even led the tournament briefly, taking a one-stroke lead over Pooley with a 6-foot birdie putt on 11.
 
'I thought he did a fabulous job,' Pooley said. 'I was a big fan of his when he was pitching for the Dodgers. On the 11th green, I was thinking, 'You know, I wish he was still pitching.''
 
Pooley surged past Rhoden when he landed a 4-iron 25 feet behind the pin on the par-5 11th and rolled in the putt for eagle. He led the rest of the way.
 
'It was a slick left to right putt and ended up right in the heart of it,' Pooley said. 'I felt real good about that.
 
Pooley pumped his club in the air with his right hand and pumped his left fist after the ball disappeared into the hole. When Pooley stuck his tee shot on the par-3 14th to 6 feet and made the birdie putt, his lead had grown to four and it was all but over.
 
'I was just trying to avoid disaster the rest of the way and enjoy it,' he said.
 
Rhoden, who has earned $2 million in celebrity tournaments, made a strong run but faltered after his birdie on 12. He three-putted the next three holes for bogey on each.
 
'My putter just got feeling like a sledgehammer for three holes,' Rhoden said.
 
Still, Rhoden finished with 19 birdies in 54 holes.
 
'I'm just proud I hung in there and played well,' he said. 'Other than the three holes, I couldn't have asked for a better day.'
 
Thorpe, the 2001 Allianz champion, was strong off the tee as usual and hit some solid shots to the green. But he kept barley missing putts for birdie that would have kept the pressure on Pooley.
 
Pooley was the 22nd different winner in 23 Champions Tour events this year. Only Lietzke has won twice.
 
Fuzzy Zoeller gutted out the final 18 holes after having a root canal on Saturday night. A dentist walked the course with Zoeller and gave him four Novocain shots during the round. Zoeller shot a 73 to finish 3 under.
 
Dave Barr used a 4-iron from 195 yards to knock in a hole-in-one on No. 5. Barr finished the tournament at 2 over after a 72.
 
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from the Allianz Championship
  • Full Coverage - Allianz Championship