Flesch fires 67 as comeback from rock bottom continues

Steve Flesch watches his tee shot on No. 18 during the second round of the Masters.
Steve Flesch watches his tee shot on No. 18 during the second round of the Masters.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Steve Flesch stood in the middle of Augusta National's 13th fairway Friday morning and stared at the creek-guarded green more than 200 yards in the distance. With his ball on a hanging lie, he faced a moment of decision.

He wanted to hit a 4-iron. Caddie Paul Fusco insisted on a 3-iron.

"I have a hard enough time with a 3-iron off a flat tee box (with the ball) teed up, much less off a hanging lie," he would say later.

The caddie won the debate, and Flesch hammered the shot. With the ball in flight, he figured, "too much club." With the ball rolling across the green, he knew, "too much club."

"I thought it rolled off the back edge, which is fine, but I was going to try to make a point to my caddie," he said. "Then, I heard the crowd reacting."

The ball's stopping two feet from the pin set off cheers, and Fusco had the last words: "Dude, I told you that was the right bat."

The chagrined -- but pleased -- golfer made the putt for the eagle, the exclamation point on the best round Friday in the 72nd Masters. His 5-under-par 67 propelled him up the leader board, and he starts today three shots off the pace.

Six months ago, maybe even three weeks ago, a performance like this would be like his 3-iron shot -- unbelievable.

Flesch saw his stock sink to rock bottom last year. He plunged to 215th in the world rankings and fans wondered how low could he go.

Instead, the left-hander from Union, Ky., won twice during the much-scorned Fall Series, the tournaments that follow the Tour Championship and are mostly an after-thought during football season. Golfers who are trying to salvage their year, like Flesch, make up the fields.

Those earnings earned him a Masters invitation. However, his efforts the first three months of another season hardly suggested this: a place among the leaders in the year's first major. He missed cuts in four of nine starts with a tie for 20th his best finish.

His secret Friday is really no secret: He dominated the par 5s, the same route that carried Zach Johnson to the championship a year ago.

"It boils down to this," he said. "I have to be good with my wedge play around this golf course, because no matter how well I hit my irons, I'm going to have some tough up-and-downs. ... That's the same old story for me."

He played the four par-5 holes in 5-under par. He used his 60-degree wedge to set up birdies on the front nine, made the eagle on 13 and chipped to a foot for birdie on 15.

"I'm not going to be able to attack the par 4s, because I have anywhere from a 3-iron to a 7-iron into those greens, and it's hard to be aggressive with those clubs," Flesch said. "The par 3s are not real short, either, so the par 5s are where I have to take advantage."

He did just that Friday.

Though Flesch became the poster boy for the value of the PGA Tour's Fall Series, he does not believe those tournaments should necessarily earn an automatic invitation to the Masters. The strength of the field should be the determining factor.

"Only the ones with enough ranking points should automatically get in (the Masters)," he said. "I'm not discounting (the events); they all should mean something. They all should have value, and I worry about the sponsorship angle. What motivates the sponsors if they don't count for anything except guys who are trying to keep their (playing privileges)?"

He won at Reno, which did not have a stellar field. He believed, however, his victory in the Turning Stone tourney came against a cast with plenty of world ranking points.

Flesch played in the Masters in 2001, '04 and '05 and spent the past two years watching the tournament on television.

"I sat in the basement and sulked," he said and laughed.

He earned his spot in the show this time, and his score Friday made fans take notice. Yet, they did not really know the person behind the day's best round; after his round, he sat anonymously in the clubhouse, just another face in the crowd.

That could change today. Another round like Friday's will guarantee fame -- even if his caddie calls the shot.