Waldorf Wins National Car Rental

Monday, October 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The formula sounded so simple to Steve Flesch. He was playing in the final group with Tiger Woods, had a two-stroke lead over him and was five shots clear of everybody else.

``I felt if I beat Tiger, I would win the golf tournament,'' Flesch said.

Duffy Waldorf never signed off on the plan.

Oblivious to what was going on behind him, Waldorf turned in a career-low 62 on Sunday and came from six strokes behind to win the National Car Rental Classic at Disney World by one shot over a disheartened Flesch.

As incredible as Woods has played this year, the PGA Tour doesn't award prizes for beating the No. 1 player in the world — only for winning tournaments. And at the end of the day, a guy named Duffy was holding a trophy of Mickey Mouse and Pluto.

``Right now, I'm fairly close to shock,'' Waldorf said.

Such emotion also applied to Flesch, who made two crucial birdies on the back nine, but missed a 7-footer on the final hole that would have forced a playoff.

``I don't know what it takes to win,'' said Flesch, who closed with a 69. ``If a guy goes out and hits 62, he deserves it. I got beat.''

Flesch is like most golfers who dream up circumstances on the practice green as darkness falls. This putt, he would tell himself, was to get into a playoff with Jack Nicklaus in the U.S. Open, or with Tom Watson at St. Andrews.

``For some reason, Duffy was not coming to mind,'' he said.

That was true over those make-believe practice putts as a kid, and it was true Sunday.

Waldorf, who tied the Disney record with a 16-under 262, arrived at the Magnolia course across from the Magic Kingdom only hoping to hit the ball well and maybe make a putt or two. Even after six birdies over the first seven holes, winning didn't cross his mind.

``I felt I was too far behind to give him a good shot today,'' Waldorf said.

He should have paid closer attention to Woods — not what he shot, but what he said.

Late Saturday evening, Woods tried to remind anyone who would listen — and not many did — that the final round would be about more than the No. 1 player in the world trying to make up a two-stroke deficit against a Kentucky southpaw who had never won.

``This golf course ... anyone can shoot 62 out here without batting an eye,'' Woods said.

That ``anyone'' turned out to be Waldorf.

He finished off his bogey-free round with a 12-foot birdie putt. It was the lowest closing round by a winner on the PGA Tour this year.

Waldorf almost tied Larry Nelson in 1987 for the largest final-round comeback at Disney, and matched the biggest comeback on tour this year, by Phil Mickelson at Colonial.

``I would have to agree,'' Waldorf said when told about Woods' comment. ``But he was probably thinking about himself shooting 62, not me.''

Waldorf earned $540,000, the largest paycheck of his career. He won for the fourth time in his career, and the first time with Woods in the field.

``That makes it more special,'' he said. ``He brought a pretty good game with him, too.''

Woods might beg to differ.

From the opening hole, he was hampered by the one flaw in his game — getting stuck on his downswing, which brings the element of timing into his motion and usually sends the ball farther right than he aims.

That wasn't all. He three-putted twice in a span of three holes, the latter ending his streak of 110 holes without a bogey. With a chance to get within one stroke of the lead, his 18-foot birdie putt on 16 hung on the edge of the cup. His final birdie putt lipped out, and all Woods could do at that point was smile.

He wound up with a 69, three strokes out of the lead. Still, it was his 43rd consecutive round at par or better, and he has finished in the top three in 14 of 19 events worldwide this year.

``It was one of those days where I didn't have much,'' he said. ``But I hung in there and gave myself a chance.''

Woods was trying to win for the fourth straight time on tour, and now has no chance to match the record set by Byron Nelson in 1945 for highest winning percentage in one season, 60 percent.

Waldorf was only trying to find a groove, which he did.

He wore sunglasses on the back of his cap, and after holing an 8-foot putt on the first hole, decided not to put them over his eyes until his putting went sour. It never did, and he made the turn in 30 to get within one stroke of the lead.

As Flesch cleaned up a short par putt on 11, he heard a cheer from across the pond. There was Waldorf in a familiar position, plucking the ball from the cup at No. 12 and waving to the gallery to acknowledge yet another birdie.

``That's the first time I started looking at the (leader) boards,'' Flesch said.

It was the first time all weekend Flesch no longer had the lead. Waldorf again took the lead with a 3-foot birdie putt on 15, then escaped trouble on 17 by hitting around the trees on his approach and two-putting from 35 feet.

Flesch caught him with a 10-foot birdie putt on 17, but missed the one putt that mattered more than all of them.

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