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Lietzke makes final PGA Tour appearance

Bruce Lietzke was still in the prime of his career in 1988 when he chose to reduce his PGA Tour schedule.

The oldest of his two children was about to begin school, ending the days of his family traveling with him. And he knew the senior tour was only 13 years away.

``That justified me making my decision to reduce my schedule. That was the plan with the senior tour in the far distance,'' Lietzke said Wednesday.

``I had some guilt feelings about reducing my schedule, when I was still very competitive and passing up big paychecks. But that wasn't my No. 1 priority. My family was, and my focus was to at home as much as I could.''

This week, with both of his kids in high school, Lietzke plays the final event of his 26-year PGA Tour career in the MasterCard Colonial, about 45 minutes from his Dallas home and where he has won twice.

Lietzke, a 13-time PGA Tour winner, turns 50 on July 18. Two days later, will make his long-awaited senior debut in the SBC Senior Open at Kemper Lakes just outside of Chicago.

While Lietzke closes out his PGA Tour career this week, Phil Mickelson tries to become the only person other than Ben Hogan to win consecutive titles at Colonial.

Last year, Mickelson overcame a seven-stroke deficit in his final nine holes. His closing 7-under 63 included five birdies on the back nine, while third-round leader Stewart Cink had bogeys on five of his last 14 holes.

``I certainly didn't think I had a shot at the turn,'' Mickelson said. ``I really didn't try to win on the backside. I was just trying to play a good back nine.''

Cink finished about an hour after Mickelson with bogeys on three of the last four holes to end up two strokes behind.

Mickelson said the way he won the 2000 Colonial changed his approach.

``I learned a lot from last year, and that was really to not focus so much on winning and not worry about winning as much,'' he said. ``And to keep trying to score as low as possible.''

This year, Mickelson has finished in the top three in six of 12 events. He won the Buick Invitational in February, and is coming off a 28th-place showing last week in the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic, where he followed an opening 2-over 72 with rounds of 66, 68 and 66.

For Lietzke, the setting for his final PGA Tour event is fitting, as is that for his first event on the senior tour.

``This is the very top of my list of tournaments I've played. This is a great week to finish off,'' Lietzke said. ``Kemper Lakes in Chicago ... it's a great course, a great town. That turned out to be a no-brainer, a very easy decision to make that my first one.''

Lietzke has won only twice on the PGA Tour since going to a limited schedule, 1992 at Colonial and 1994 at the Las Vegas Invitational. He played 16-20 events each year from 1989-96, but hasn't played in more than 10 a year since then.

While he has played in only one other tournament this year, failing to make the cut in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in February, Lietzke hasn't had much time to reminisce about his PGA Tour career while preparing for the senior tour.

``When I'm done (at Colonial), I will probably do some reflecting then, and get a lot of satisfaction out of the things I've done and the years I've played in a career that I expected to last about 10 years,'' he said. ``I remember going to qualifying in 1975 and having just little goals, like making a cut, making a check.''

In the 26 years since, he has made nearly $6.5 million (ranked 45th on the PGA Tour list) and was in the top 20 on the money list eight times.

Lietzke plans to play about nine senior events this year, and by time his daughter graduates high school in 2004, he plans to be playing 26-28 tournaments a year for the first time since the mid-1980s.

``I will still go my own pace, and that's usually very unhurried,'' he said.

Divots: Davis Love III withdrew because of continued problems with his neck. He hasn't played since April 15. ... Robert Damron, who won the Nelson Classic in nearby Irving last week in a four-hole playoff against Scott Verplank for his first PGA Tour victory, got a congratulatory call Wednesday from Arnold Palmer, a family friend. ``He said he was impressed with the tournament, and not just with the way I played. He said he was impressed with the way I carried myself,'' Damron said. ``That was nice.''

 


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