LUTZ - Bruce Fleisher has won six Champions Tour events that no longer exist, and although he doesn't take it personally, he would have been upset if Tampa Bay's tour stop had gone away.
Outback stepped up in the fall to help save the tournament from extinction, so the 17th version of the event will commence today with the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am. Fleisher could not be happier.
You would have a hard time finding anybody who likes the TPC of Tampa Bay course more.
Fleisher won the tournament last year and in 2000. He also has two seconds and a third in his five appearances.
What is it about this place?
"This golf course is one where you have to be very patient," Fleisher said. "Par is a very good score. It's a golf course that just suits my eye. I think you have to play some good golf here. We play a lot of golf courses where guys who hit it long and miss fairways can get away with it. You certainly can't hit too many bad shots here. It sort of keeps you in control, keeps you in check."
Fleisher, who won the Royal Caribbean Classic two weeks ago, is a combined 39-under par in the tournament and has been under par in 13 of his 15 rounds, with a scoring average of 68.40.
COMING CLOSE: Hale Irwin has never won the tournament, but he has had a good run at the TPC of Tampa Bay. In six appearances, he never has finished outside the top 10. He was a stroke behind winner Doug Tewell in 2002 and a stroke behind Fleisher last year. The big moment came on the 17th hole, where Fleisher birdied and Irwin three-putted for bogey, a two-shot swing that led to Fleisher's win. Irwin has six straight subpar rounds at the TPC of Tampa Bay.
FINALLY IN FLORIDA: Craig Stadler read in the newspaper last weekend that Tom Watson had never won in Florida. He got to thinking about it ... and neither had Stadler, until his Sunday victory at the ACE Group Classic in Naples. Stadler was 0-for-63 before the win. "Unless you grew up on the East Coast or in the South ... a lot of guys don't do well on Bermuda (greens)," said Stadler, who grew up in San Diego. "I grew up on bent. There is a lot of grain in Bermuda."
PRO-AM: Fleisher, Stadler and Mike McCullough's teams tied for low honors in Thursday's Jose Cuervo Challenge, shooting 17-under-par 54. Fleisher's pro-am partners were Ron Blustein, Bruce Lauer, Lou Varsames and Jim Mehalso. ... Stadler's partners were Al Kreischer, Jack Suarez, Todd Taylor and Don Whyte. McCullough's partners were Lavonne Dietrich, Mark Raiger, Gary Hamacheck and Jack Kimberly. ... The Champions Tour no longer gives individual prize money in the pro-am competition, and instead donates $5,000 to a local charity, with the First Tee of Tampa Bay being the recipient.
NEW FORMAT: As the new title sponsor of the Champions Tour event that will be played for the 17th consecutive year, Outback Steakhouse is bringing a new format. Instead of the traditional 54-hole stroke-play event, amateurs are added to the mix. Today and Saturday, one amateur will be paired with one professional in a team format (72 twosomes). Amateurs will have a handicap, and a best-ball competition will take place. Though there is no cut for the pros, only the top 12 teams make it to Sunday.