Surviving what passes for an endurance test in golf, breaking out of a rush-hour traffic jam atop the leaderboard, Steve Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic in a playoff in the gathering darkness Saturday.
It required 38 holes Saturday to do it, Flesch winning on the second playoff hole with a birdie on the par-5 18th at TPC Sugarloaf. Yes, the golfing world got its pound of Flesch - and then some - this day.
A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, he won for the first time Saturday on the PGA Tour Champions. In his 21 prior events on the over-50 circuit, his best finish was fifth.
“Honestly, it’s been harder than I anticipated winning on this tour,” Flesch said. “The guys are so good. That Langer guy is hard to beat.”
Saturday’s three-way playoff matched one of the enduring PGA Tour Champions winners - Bernhard Langer - against two players seeking their first victory on the second-chance tour - Flesch and Scott Parel.
Augusta’s Parel, a late-comer to pro golf, a University of Georgia computer-science grad (Class of 1986), came the furthest to make the playoff. He shot a tournament-record-tying 64 in the third round to join Langer and Flesch at 11 under through regulation.
To the par-5 18th hole they went to start the playoff, with the sundown clock ticking.
First to fall was Langer, the two-time Masters champion and winner of 36 titles on this tour. He laid up, and, with the long putter that had abandoned him earlier in the day, could not make a 15-foot birdie putt. “I had so many opportunities here and there,” he bemoaned. Had he made any one of his third-round birdie putts on Nos. 10 (four feet), 17 (12 feet) or 18 (20 feet), Langer would well have nailed down his second win at this event. Instead, he is now a four-time runner-up.
Both Flesch and Parel hit the green in two and two-putted for birdie and back to the tee at 18 they went for a second playoff hole.
Both Parel and Flesch flushed their drives into the fairway, but Parel blinked first, hitting his hybrid into the lake guarding the front of the green. “I was just between clubs a little bit,” he said. “I had to kind of choke up on a hybrid - couldn’t hit it too hard.I just didn’t hit it as crisply as I needed to.”
Parel would bogey. Rather than laying up after witnessing Parel dump one into the lake, Flesch blew his second shot over the green, into a back bunker. “Come to think of it, it might not have been the smartest play,” he said. “I honestly should have maybe laid up.”
Nevertheless, Flesch got up and down from there to finish with a birdie flourish. He played No. 18 three times Saturday. Three times he birdied it. It was his birdie there at the end of regulation - after having suffered a rather clumsy bogey on the par-3 16th - that got him into the playoff. “I remember when I played the BellSouth (a PGA Tour event) when it was here, I played that hole great,” he said. Look who’s got a new favorite hole.
Can there be too much golf? They begged that question on this day of play that just didn’t want to end.
In anticipation of a rainy Sunday, tournament overseers decided to fit the final 36 holes of the 54-hole event into one day. Even that was insufficient to determine a champion.
“It’s more mentally taxing to me than physically taxing, especially if you’re in the mix like that all day,” Flesch said. “I know I’ll sleep great tonight.”
As many as five players shared the lead late in the day Saturday as they made the turn for the closing nine holes.
Among them was Jay Haas, 64, bidding to become the oldest-ever winner on this gathering of seasoned pros. Bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 doomed him. Haas finished at 9 under, in fourth place, two shots out of the playoff.