Originally created 10/30/00

Waldorf steals the show at Disney



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tiger Woods wasn't a winner Sunday, just a prophet.

On the eve of the final round in the National Car Rental Classic, Woods warned everyone not to get wrapped up in his pursuit of Steve Flesch. "This golf course ... anyone can shoot 62 out here without batting an eye," he said.

He made a believer out of everyone -- especially Duffy Waldorf.

Six strokes behind to start the final day, Waldorf polished off a career-low 62 with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a one-stroke victory over Flesch.

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

Waldorf wasn't thinking about winning, not even after birdies on six of his first seven holes. He looked at the leaderboard just once -- after he made the turn in 30, one stroke behind -- and realized he had won only after watching Flesch miss a 7-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff.

"Obviously, it's a surprise to me," Waldorf said. "I got everything I could out of the round."

His bogey-free 62 was the lowest closing round by a winner on the PGA Tour this year, and his 26-under 262 tied the Disney record set by John Huston in 1992, when three courses were used in the rotation.

He also 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.

Flesch, meanwhile, suffered a cruel twist of fate.

Playing with the No. 1 player in the world in the final group, trying to win for the first time in 94 career starts on the PGA Tour, the left-hander from Kentucky held up his end of the bargain with two crucial birdie putts on the back nine.

And he still lost.

"I felt like if I beat Tiger, I would win the golf tournament," said Flesch, who finished with a 69. "I didn't work out. I think playing with him spurred me one a little bit, kept me focused on what was going on. We just had a guy sneak in on us and nip us by one."

Flesch kept him composure, even to the last hole. Standing in the 18th fairway, he heard the roar when Waldorf sank his birdie putt, then hit his approach into 7 feet left of the hole. His putt to force a playoff, however, stayed high of the hole.

Waldorf won $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 the 16th 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 and was 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 Sunday, 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.

Flesch and Woods had their own problems, neither one of them getting off to the kind of start that could have turned the final round into match play. Neither of them considered that someone else might win until the 11th hole.

As they cleaned up short putts for par, they heard a cheer from across the pond. There was Waldorf in a familiar position, plucking the ball from the cup 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 the 15th, then escaped trouble on the 17th by hitting around the trees on his approach and two-putting from 35 feet.

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

"That was probably the biggest putt for my career that meant something," he said.

As a kid, Flesch used to dream up situations on the practice green, acting like he needed to make that one putt to get into a playoff.

"But I had different guys I was tying," Flesch said. "For some reason, Duffy was not coming to mind."

Divots: Two of Waldorf's four victories have come in the final full-field tournament of the year -- his first victory was in the 1995 Texas Open. He went over $1 million for the season for the second straight year. ... Chris Perry had a 69 and tied for 13th. He won $54,600, enough to bump Rocco Mediate out of 30th place on the money list and qualify for the $5 million Tour Championship next week in Atlanta. ... For the first time in three weeks, the guy on the bubble -- Dan Forsman at No. 125 on the money list -- failed to improve his position. Forsman had a 70 on Sunday, and leads Pete Jordan by just over $11,000 going into the final tournament of the year next week in Mississippi.