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Steve Flesch vaults up to World No.24
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Steve Flesch looking to create Colonial history

Steve Flesch is constantly tinkering with his game.

He's always changing balls and trying different techniques. Rarely does the same putter make it through a tournament.

When Flesch is at home, he doesn't even hit balls on the range. That would be too mundane and boring for the left-handed swinger.

Yet, when Flesch returned to the Colonial this week as the defending champion, the most comforting thing he found was that it's still the same old course.

``Nothing has changed. It's just a good test of golf,'' he said. ``It just suits my game. I feel really comfortable here, obviously.''

Hogan's Alley really hasn't changed much since its namesake was the only golfer to win consecutive Colonials -- doing that twice more than a half-century ago (1946-47, 1952-53).

There are tree-lined fairways, plenty of doglegs and some difficult par 3s on the longest-serving host course for a PGA Tour event. The par-70, 7,054-yard course isn't like so many modern-day layouts where length is at a premium.

``The farther you hit it here, the more trouble there is,'' Chris DiMarco said.

``There are not many courses like this left,'' David Toms said. ``The ball runs in the fairways, and you have to control your shape off the tee, and into the green. And we have the wind to contend with.''

Tiger Woods, who missed the cut last weekend at the Byron Nelson Championship, doesn't play here because the course doesn't suit his game. His only appearance was 1997.

Vijay Singh also is skipping the second half of the Texas two-step for the third straight year.

Still, the Colonial tees off Thursday with four of the top six from the money list.

Phil Mickelson, the 2000 Colonial champion who is No. 2 in earnings, is the highest-ranked player in the field. Toms, DiMarco and Fred Funk are the others.

Only Flesch has the chance to join Ben Hogan by going back-to-back here.

Flesch has been reminded of that often. During a practice round, a playing partner pointed to a wall near the No. 1 tee where the names of the yearly winners are engraved, along with the expanded gap since Hogan's last repeat victory in 1953.

``I'm like, `Thanks, like I don't already know that,' `` Flesch said. ``But he said, `Well, you're the only guy that has a chance this week.' That's a good way to look at it. It's got to be done again by somebody, especially if you like the course as much as I do.''

Flesch has a streak of eight straight sub-par rounds at Colonial, a feat not even Hogan accomplished. Only former champions David Frost and Kenny Perry have matched that.

``It's the type of course I grew up on and enjoy playing,'' Flesch said. ``Even if I was playing my worst golf coming in, I think I would be comfortable. It's kind of like coming home.''

His scoring average of 69 is the best for any golfer with at least six appearances at the Colonial, which is sponsored by Bank of America.

That success hasn't carried over to other courses.

A month after winning the Colonial on his 37th birthday for only his second PGA Tour victory, Flesch tied for seventh at the U.S. Open. He has played 28 official events since without a top-20 finish.

And he's changed a lot of putters. Even during last year's Colonial, he used two different ones.

``I'm just not loyal to a certain look or a certain type,'' Flesch said. ``It all just depends on kind of how I'm feeling. I don't know anybody else that jumps around as much as I do. It's kind of a game to me.''

Flesch has about 150 putters in the basement of his home in Union, Ky., and usually brings four of them to each tournament. He also has about 100 drivers, though he has used the same set of irons for about two years.

Instead of the driving range, Flesch spends his practice time playing a six-hole loop on a course that surrounds his home. He carries two full bags of different clubs and balls on his cart, using countless combinations during two-hour sessions after dropping his children off at school.

When playing in the same events as Mike Weir, Flesch likes to check out the bag of the fellow left-hander and then show his latest clubs.

``It's funny. It's comical. It works for him,'' Weir said. ``Vijay has switched putters a number of times and there are a lot of guys that switch around, and Steve is one of the best.''


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