SOUIX FALLS, SD – Steve Flesch was lucky enough to win the fourth edition of Sanford International in regulation.
KJ Choi had the win ahead of him on the opening hole of the playoffs.
Both men missed their chances.
Darren Clarke, meanwhile, kept hanging on, and when he got the chance, he didn’t miss it.
Clarke, Flesch and Choi finished the three-day PGA Tour Champions tied at 12, forcing a playoff on the 18th hole, where it took two tries for a winner to emerge. It was Clarke, whose long fringe chip stopped a few yards from the cup, giving her a relatively easy birdie putt that earned her the win and $ 270,000 in cash prizes.
Clarke had similar approaches at the 18th hole in regulation and the playoff game, and he didn’t perform very well either. When given a third chance, he did not fail.
“The second time around, I thought, I know the speed now, the ball worked well,” Clarke said. “The third time around, I was just so stubborn that I was going to prove to myself that I could hit the right distance and I did. In the playoff, you never know what can happen. Anyone can make birdies. Fortunately, it was my day today.
Clark shot an under-65 score on Sunday to tie with Flesch and Choi. Choi entered the day at 11 under, two strokes ahead of Paul Stankowski and Alex Cejka, who both got into a quick fight.
This allowed Clarke and Flesch to make their moves, which they did regularly in the midst of a strong wind that made birdies difficult at times. Choi came out stable and conservative, starting the day with 12 straight pars before scoring his first birdie of 13.
On the 16th par 5, Clarke unleashed a monstrous practice that prepared him for the late push that pulled him tied. Still, he needed help to eventually hoist the trophy.
After Choi settled for a par 16, Flesch headed for the 18th tee with a lead of one shot to 13 under. But his tee shot left him behind a tree, and rather than cut his losses and send the ball back down the fairway, he tried to wrap his second shot around the tree. Instead, he slammed into it, knocking his ball back. He needed a solid hole finish just to get a buggy, which helped Clarke and Choi advance to the playoffs.
In the first playoff, Choi was the only one to touch the green in regulation time and had a 12-footer for a birdie and victory. He missed, so he and Clarke qualified for a second hole in the playoffs while Flesch was knocked out.
Wind was a factor throughout the day, gusting up to 40mph, but Clarke was able to use it to his advantage, which Minnehaha’s course adheres to anyway.
“I think if you drive well here you can score well,” said Clarke. “And the driver is probably my favorite club in the bag. So today I drove the ball well. I hit long and hit straight and when I do I have a fighting chance.
“(The wind) was tough, it was tricky, but you saw good scores yesterday and you saw good scores today,” he added. “The course was eminently playable, but if you were slightly behind with your hitting the ball you could play a big penalty with that wind.”
Last year’s winner Miguel Angel Jimenez finished strong with a 66 to tie for fourth at 10 under with Rod Pampling. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker was 9 behind, followed by John Senden, Steven Alker, Retief Goosen and Cejka, all of whom were 8 behind.
Clarke said while addressing fans after the victory that Sanford International is one of the busiest and most supported events of the entire Champions Tour.
“The fans have been very good to me,” Clarke said. “I really enjoyed my stay in Sioux Falls. The fans were brilliant. I’ve had a drink with one or two of them in the past so it’s been nice to be back here.