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Fleisher Stops Irwin to Win RJR

September 16, 2002

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CLEMMONS, N.C. (AP) _ Bruce Fleisher is quick to see all that’s wrong. So even when he was in control of the RJR Championship, he needed some strong advice from his wife.

Fleisher was driving to Tanglewood Park in the rain Sunday, complaining about a few things and wondering if he was good enough to hold off the Senior PGA Tour’s best player, Hale Irwin.

Wendy Fleisher heard enough.

``I was giving Wendy a hard time,″ said Fleisher, who won the $1.6 million tournament after entering the last round with a five-shot lead over Irwin. ``I was making excuses, telling her I was tired. I was trying to find ways out of the cracks.

``She said, `Grow up, that’s what you’re out here for _ to win,‴ he said. ``The funny things is, who are you playing for? You’re playing for yourself and your family. But the expectations you put on yourself are real.″

Fleisher broke his 38-tournament winless streak by shooting a 3-under-par 67 to win in record fashion.

He also had rounds of 60 and 64 for a 19-under 191 to set the tour’s 54-hole record. Three players held the previous mark of 193, last matched in 1992 by Gibby Gilbert.

``I wasn’t really trying to talk myself out of winning, but I was nervous, uncomfortable,″ Fleisher said of his drive from the hotel. ``Having played with Hale on Saturday I know how good he is and he can bury you at any time. It wouldn’t have taken much.″

However, Irwin’s putting stroke wasn’t there Sunday. He shot a 67 to finish at 14 under, five shots back. Don Pooley came in third at 12 under after a final-round 68.

Rain from a tropical depression that fell the entire round.

``I can’t believe we played, but it was the same result had we not played,″ Irwin said. ``We could have saved a whole lot of time and effort.″

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, he became just the third wire-to-wire winner this season. Kite did it in the MasterCard Championship and Gilder in the FleetBoston Classic.

``I really have been living a fantasy the last four years,″ Fleisher said. ``I don’t make too big a deal of this because I know there are a lot more important things going on.″

Fleisher fell short of the record in relation to par, which is 22 under and last accomplished in 2001 by Tom Kite. But he earned $240,000 to move into third place on the money list behind Irwin and Bob Gilder with six events left.

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.

Irwin made three straight birdies on the front nine, bringing him to 13 under and within three of Fleisher with nine holes left.

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. He pushed his lead to five with birdie putts of 10 feet and 6 feet on the next two holes.

``After a while it got to be not so much trying to catch Bruce, I just didn’t want to be stupid and give away second place,″ said Irwin, a runner-up for the sixth time this season.

The $140,800 was good enough to push his season earnings to more than $2.5 million, his second-best season on the senior tour. There are six tournaments left, and Irwin can still reach his best mark of $2.86 million in 1998.

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