And he'll need more birdies, as the Champions Tour keeps getting tougher. Bruce Fleisher's 67 will attest to that.
By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 15, 2003
NAPLES -- Bruce Fleisher used to make it look so easy, even if to him it was pure pain.
Plagued by self-doubt in a PGA Tour career in which he won once, Fleisher seemingly tried to make up for all the frustrations when he joined the Champions Tour in 1999.
Then known as the Senior PGA Tour, Fleisher won his first two starts and seven times that year. He entered this season, his fifth, with 15 titles.
But it doesn't get any easier. As players get older, they typically don't get better. And there's always somebody younger coming along to make things tougher.
Fleisher, who three years ago won the Verizon Classic in Tampa, shot 5-under-par 67 on Friday in the opening round of the ACE Group Classic. His score included eagle at the par-5 13th hole, where he hit 7-iron onto the green with his second shot at the 544-yard par-5 hole.
But Fleisher left the Club at TwinEagles without seeing his name atop the leaderboard.
That honor went to Argentina's Vicente Fernandez (66), a three-time Champions Tour winner in his eighth season. Mike McCullough and Jim Thorpe tied Fleisher at 67, with a slew of players, including Tom Watson, Tampa's Gary Koch and Tampa's Jim Dent, at 68.
"I don't think it's easy at all," said Fleisher, 54, of what it takes to win on the over-50 tour. "We're playing longer golf courses, and even if the golf ball is going farther it doesn't matter to me. The competition keeps getting better.
"The last four years have been incredible for me. It's been a great opportunity for me to play with these guys. But I'm going to have to put it in second gear if I'm going to keep pace."
No doubt, average is not good enough on the Champions Tour. TwinEagles measures 7,102 yards, and 35 players broke par of 72.
"Lots of guys will get a rude awakening when they come out here," Thorpe said. "We're not playing any 6,400-yard courses. Some guys will be absolutely shocked by the courses we're seeing."
Fernandez knows what he's up against. He went home in the offseason and finished fifth at the Argentine Open against a field of younger players. "That's pretty good for someone my age," said Fernandez, 56.
For the most part Fernandez took time off to get ready for this season.
"I didn't practice much," said Fernandez, who has 88 tournament victories, most in South America. "I built up my golf appetite, and when this year started I really wanted to play. I don't like to work, I like to enjoy golf. I forced myself not to play and practice, and I knew I had to take it easy. Physically, I had to recover."
The plan appears to have worked. Fernandez, who tied for 17th last weekend at the Royal Caribbean Classic, started with bogey at No. 10 (his first hole) but recovered to make two birdies on the back side. On the front nine Fernandez birdied five of the first seven holes, hitting 9-iron to 2 feet at the par-4 seventh for the lead.
"I just took advantage of the shots I hit close to the hole," he said.
But as everyone in the tournament knows, he'll have to hit many more close to the hole to be a factor in Sunday's final round.
"The Champions Tour is more competitive," said Bobby Walzel, who joined the tour in 2000, after shooting 68. "The level of play has been raised a notch each year I've been out here."