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Fernandez puts woes behind him with win



Published: Thu, February 20, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



He won the $1.6 million tournament by three strokes.

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) -- On the verge of his first tour victory since 1999, Vicente Fernandez began thinking about his late mother, aunt, brother-in-law and coach.

Facing a 60-foot putt for birdie on the last hole, the 56-year-old Argentine let the memories seep in. He then drained the long putt and hurled his visor in the air in celebration of winning The ACE Group Classic on Sunday.

"That has been with me off the course," he said of the series of deaths that saddened him over the last year. "I've tried very hard not to put them on the course during my play because I'm very emotional. ... Before I hit my last putt, I started thinking about them."

He also thought about Brian Deasy, Fernandez's caddie since 1997, who has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments for a tennis ball-size tumor near his spine. Deasy left Fernandez a voice mail on Saturday night.

"He was inside me, in my thoughts," said Fernandez, nicknamed "Chino" after a sumo wrestler because he was almost 11 pounds when he was born.

Biggest payday

Fernandez won the $1.6 million tournament at The Club at TwinEagles by three strokes at 14-under-par 202. He beat tour rookie Des Smyth and 2002 runner-up Tom Watson, who hasn't won professionally in 84 tries in Florida.

Fernandez won $240,000, his biggest payday ever, for shooting 66, 68 and 68. His last victory was at Las Vegas in 1999.

"You don't like losing," said Watson, who was the runner-up for the third time in four years, "but you don't mind losing to somebody like Chino."

Smyth had a final-round 66, the best round of the day.

Club professional Jay Overton, a qualifier, bogeyed the last hole to tie for fourth at 206 with 1998 and 2001 champion Gil Morgan and Tom Purtzer.

Jack Nicklaus completed his first full-field Champions Tour event since last April, shooting an even-par 72 to tie for 58th at 3 over. The 63-year-old Nicklaus also will play in this week's Verizon Classic in Tampa.

"I just didn't play very well," said Nicklaus, who tied for 11th in the MasterCard Championship two weeks ago.

Windy day

Gusty conditions Sunday turned it into more of a survival test for players instead of a birdie-fest.

Fernandez spaced out birdies on Nos. 6, 10, 17 and 18 and didn't make a bogey for the final 53 holes of the 54-hole tournament. His birdie on No. 6 gave him the lead and he extended it two shots with a 3-footer on No. 10.

Fernandez did not miss a green and hit two par-5s in two.

Fernandez's mother, brother-in-law, aunt and longtime coach and best friend, Norberto Bartolone, all died last year. That and Deasy's illness contributed to his worst year on the tour, finishing out of the top 31 for the first time.

Sunday, he tried not to think about his relatives until the title was virtually was assured.

More woes

In addition to his personal losses, Fernandez also has had to deal with financial woes due to the depressed economic times in Argentina, where he still lives.

It was Fernandez's fourth Champions Tour win. He is the second straight international player to win a tour event, following Canada's Dave Barr. The last time that happened was 1998 when Hugh Baiocchi of South Africa won two in a row.




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