Royal Carribean Classic
Royal Carribean Classic
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Fleisher wins wire-to-wire in Senior debut

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. Bruce Fleisher joined some elite company in his Senior PGA Tour debut.

Fleisher shot a 1-under-par 70 today to win the season-opening Royal Caribbean Classic and become the fifth player to win in his senior debut.

"I can't express what I'm feeling right now,'' Fleisher said of the win, which came before many of his friends and family members from his hometown of Miami. "This is something I dreamed about for the last 4-5 years.''

Fleisher, a former club pro from Miami, escaped trouble on the 18th hole to join Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and George Archer as winners in their senior debuts.

Fleisher, who needed nearly 30 years to win $1.7 million on the PGA Tour, earned $150,000 in one weekend for his biggest career paycheque. He finished with an 8-under 205 at Crandon Park Golf Course.

"I certainly didn't come here expecting to win,'' said Fleisher, who won only once on the regular tour. "I guess this is a Cinderella story.''

Japan's Isao Aoki, who started the final round two strokes behind Fleisher, also closed with a 70 to finish at 207.

Leonard Thompson (66) and Dana Quigley (68) tied for third at 208.

Of the five players to win in their first tournament on the Senior Tour, Fleisher is the first to lead wire-to-wire. But he is the second player to lead wire-to-wire this year. John Jacobs led from start to finish in winning the season-opening MasterCard Championship two weeks ago.

"I had an angel on my shoulder this week,'' Fleisher said.

That was never more evident than on the 18th hole today. Fleisher stepped to the final tee clinging to a one-stroke lead over Aoki.

The 18th is a tight par-4, with water to the left and right. Both players drove into the mangroves to the right of the fairway and faced a difficult challenge just to chop the ball back onto the fairway.

Fleisher survived.

Aoki didn't.

Fleisher managed to chip out successfully, while Aoki whiffed on his recovery attempt and then had to take a drop.

Fleisher's escape allowed him to make bogey and still win. Aoki finished with a double bogey on the hole.

"That taught me a lesson, because I had rushed my tee shot,'' Fleisher said. "When you go to the right on that hole, it's jail.''

Fleisher punched the ball 20 yards up the fairway. Aoki, hitting from almost the same spot in the hazard, swung and missed. He then took a drop, all but ending his chances.

"I hit a tree root and didn't touch the ball,'' Aoki said. "I wanted to do the same thing from the trees as Bruce.''

Raymond Floyd, starting the day 1-over, reeled off five birdies on the front nine and reached 5-under for the tournament before double-bogeying the 13th hole to fade from contention. Floyd finished five shots back and tied for seventh.

Fleisher started the day with a two-stroke lead over Aoki and Jose Maria Canizares of Spain.

Canizares dropped back with a double bogey on the third hole. When Floyd, playing several groups ahead, backed up with his double bogey on No. 13, the tournament became a two-horse race between Fleisher and Aoki.

Aoki briefly took the lead after knocking a 9-iron to within a foot of the cup at No. 8. Fleisher charged back with birdies at the ninth and 10th and kept the lead the rest of the way.

"I left the door open on the 18th, but he couldn't close it,'' Fleisher said.

During the trophy presentation, Fleisher embraced his wife, Wendy, whom he credited for being at his side during his struggles on the regular tour. His only PGA Tour victory came at the 1991 New England Classic.

Fleisher even managed to joke about being fined $500 on Saturday for slow play on the 13th hole.

"I can afford it now,'' he said.